Schawlow, Arthur L.

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SCHAWLOW, ARTHUR L. (1921–1999), U.S. physicist and Nobel laureate. He was born in Mount Vernon, New York, to an immigrant father from Riga and a Canadian mother. When he was aged three, the family moved to Toronto, where he was educated at Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute. He won a scholarship enabling him to graduate in mathematics and physics from the University of Toronto (1941). During World War ii he worked in radar development, before returning to the university to earn his Ph.D. (1951) in spectroscopy under the supervision of Malcolm Crawford. He was a postdoctoral research fellow in the physics department of Columbia University, New York, where he worked with Charles H. Townes, and then a physicist at the Bell Telephone Laboratories (1951–61), where he continued to collaborate with Townes. In 1961 he became professor of physics at Stanford University, where he was chairman of the department (1966–70), J.G. Jackson and C.J. Wood Professor of Physics from 1978, and subsequently emeritus professor. Schawlow's main research interest was spectroscopy, and he and Townes conceived the idea for, and in 1957 built, the first laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation). The practical applications of these discoveries are now common knowledge. Schawlow applied these theoretical and technical advances to his research in optics, superconductivity, and fundamental problems of atomic structure. He and Townes did not benefit personally from the patent won by the Bell Telephone Company. Schawlow and Townes won the 1981 Nobel Prize in physics, shared with Kai M. Siegbahn. His many honors included election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Marconi International Fellowship (1977), and the U.S. National Medal of Science (1991). He was a distinguished teacher, and his book Microwave Spectroscopy (1955), coauthored by Townes, was a standard text. Schawlow married Townes' sister Amelia, an outstanding musician, in 1951. She died in a road traffic accident in 1991. Their son Artie was autistic, and his parents organized the nonprofit California Vocations, a group home for autistic individuals, renamed the Arthur Schawlow Center in 1999. They also had two daughters. Schawlow was a clarinetist and jazz expert, with a legendary sense of humor manifest in his social and professional life.

[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]

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Schawlow, Arthur L.

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