Friday, April 23, 2010

Making Einstein's Idea Real

This is a very fascinating and informative Q&A with Charles Townes as part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the laser. There's a lot of historical background information here on his effort in the invention of the maser, and later on, laser.

Several people at Columbia in the early 1950s, including physics Nobel laureate I.I. Rabi, told you that trying to build a maser was a waste of time. What made you disregard that advice?

I’m accustomed to being myself, being independent, and that’s a very important part of creativity. My parents taught me that, too. Don’t do what other people are doing; you do what you think is really right. I had to think about what these people were saying, yes, but it wasn’t troublesome or upsetting when someone disagreed with me. Luckily, I had tenure at Columbia. If I didn’t have tenure, that would have been a bigger problem certainly, whether I would have taken a chance or not [to build the maser], I’m not sure. After we built the maser, Rabi didn’t exactly apologize, but he did congratulate me on my work.

See? Even Nobel Laureates can be wrong! :)


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