Jan 28, 2015 11:13 AM EST

Charles Hard Townes: Nobel Prize Winner And Physics Professor Emeritus Who Invented Lasers Dies At 99

Charles Hard Townes - One of the most respected physicists in modern era, who pioneered the discovery of the all-important laser, has died at the age of 99.

Charles Hard Townes, who was a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is reported to have died while being transported to the hospital on Tuesday, Jan 27. Townes had reportedly been struggling with health complications related to old age.

Several physicists and scientists at Berkeley and other higher learning institutions across the world have reacted since the announcement of the death of the venerable Charles Hard Townes.

Steven Boggs, the chair of the Department of Physics at Berkeley, said Townes had an "enormous impact on physics and society in general."

"Our department and all of UC Berkeley benefited from his wisdom and vision for nearly half a century. His overwhelming dedication to science and personal commitment to remaining active in research was inspirational to all of us. Berkeley physics has lost a true icon and our deepest sympathies go out to his wife Frances, and the entire Townes family," he added.

Charles Hard Townes was born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1915. He got a Bachelor from Furham University, before earning a Masters in Physics from Duke University and a PH.D. from the California Institute of Technology.

In 1954, Townes and his students built the ammonia maser - a device used to amplify microwaves using stimulated ammonia molecules.  A few years later, Townes and his brother-in-law Arthur Schawlow built the first laser after replicating the design of the ammonia maser, but this time relying on a beam of light rather than ammonia gas.

For this invention, Townes was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964. He shared the prestigious award with two Russians - Alexander Prokhorov and Niklay Basov -, who independently also invented a maser.

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