One of history’s greatest physicists grew up in South Carolina.
The son of an attorney and graduate of Furman University, Charles Townes was born in Greenville in 1915. Years before he won the Nobel Prize or invented the maser, Townes attended Greenville public schools and then Furman.
He earned degrees in physics and modern languages at Furman, where he also competed on the swim team, played in the marching band and worked on the newspaper. Townes graduated summa cum laude in 1935 – when he was 19. He completed his masters in physics in 1936 at Duke University and a doctorate in 1939 from the California Institute of Technology.
Townes led a small group of scientists in the early 1950s in inventing the maser - microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation - which eventually led to the invention of the laser.
Townes won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 for his maser research. Two decades later, he would lead a group of astronomers at the University of California-Berkeley in discovering the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Townes was deeply religious, winning in 2005 the Templeton Prize – given to people who seek to deepen the world's understanding of God and of spiritual realities.
Townes was a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California-Berkeley and visited the campus daily until a year before his death. He died in California in January 2015, six months short of his goal to live to be 100.