Prizes: Split Award

It began on a park bench. Physicist Charles Hard Townes was idly admiring nearby azaleas while he puzzled over the problems of generating microwaves.

Suddenly, it occurred to him that molecules and atoms are nature's original broadcasters. They transmit on their own characteristic frequencies whenever they change from one energy state to another. Why not put nature, instead of vacuum tubes, to work? Last week, 13 years later, Townes's answer to that question won him half the Nobel Prize in physics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences called his achievement a triumph of "quantum electronics," which was another way...

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