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.

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“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.

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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.

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