BERKELEY (CBS SF) – Charles Hard Townes, a UC Berkeley emeritus professor who invented the laser and won the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics, died Tuesday at the age of 99.

According to a statement from the university, Townes was in failing health and died on his way to the hospital.

“He was one of the most important experimental physicists of the last century,” said Berkeley astrophysicist Reinhard Genzel.

Townes thought up the solution to create a pure beam of short-wavelength, high-frequency light to use as a probe in 1951, when he was a professor at Columbia University. Three years later, he and his students developed the maser, the precursor to the laser.

In 1958, Townes created the laser with and his brother-and-law and future Nobel Prize winner Arthur Schawlow. Since then, the laser has become ubiquitous, being used in a wide range of fields such as science, telecommunication and entertainment.

Townes shares the 1964 Nobel Prize with Russian scientists Aleksandr M. Prokhorov and Nicolai G. Basov, who were independently developing a maser.

The professor came to UC Berkeley in 1967 and was seen working on campus until last year.

Townes is survived by his wife Frances, his four daughters, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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