Charles Hard Townes (AP Photo)

Charles Townes has a lot going for him; he just saw his 99th birthday and 500 people showed up to cheer for him. He has a Nobel prize and a younger wife - Frances is 98.

Oh, and he invented the laser, which just about everyone on planet Earth has heard of.

In 1900, Max Planck figured out the relationship between energy and the frequency of radiation and called it quanta. In 1917, Albert Einstein proposed the of stimulated emission - stimulating electrons to emit light - but it all came together in 1951 when Townes, then at Columbia University, sat at a park bench and came up with microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation - maser - and published it by 1954.

The actual use of the term laser was part of a 30 year patent dispute. In 1957, Columbia University graduate student Gordon Gould wrote his idea for a "laser" in a notebook, two months after Townes had described an optical maser - what would become the laser - and then strangely rushed to have it notarized at a candy store. When Townes later got the patent, Gould sued, but that is outside the scope of a happy birthday article.

By 1960, the laser had been built and in 1964, Townes, along with Russian physicists Basov and Prokhorov, who had been working on it also, got the Nobel prize for it.

Both Berkeley and Greenville, South Carolina declared the 28th “Charles H. Townes Day” in his honor. 

Happy birthday, professor!

Credit: UC Berkeley