Arthur L. Schawlow: Nobel Prize
in Physics Recipient-1981
by Seymour “Sy” Brody
Arthur Leonard Schawlow was a Nobel Prize recipient, in 1981, which he shared with Nicolaas Bloembergen and Kai M. Siegbahn for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy.
Arthur L. Schawlow was born on May 5, 1921, in Mount Vernon, New York. His father, Arthur Schawlow, was an immigrant from Riga, Latvia, and his mother, Helen Mason was from Canada. When he was three years old, his family moved to Toronto, Canada. Schawlow was sixteen years old when he completed high school. He received a scholarship and graduated in 1941, with a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics, from the University of Toronto, Canada.
Canada was in World War II when he graduated. He taught classes to armed forces personnel at the University of Toronto until 1944. He then worked on microwave development at a radar factory. He had received his master’s degree while he was teaching the army personnel.
After the war, in 1945, he resumed his graduate studies at the University of Toronto. There was shortage of personnel on the teaching staff and he chose to study optical spectroscopy because of the qualifications of Professors Malcolm F. Crawford and Harry L. Welsch. Schawlow took courses with both of them. He received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1949.
Schawlow was doing research at Columbia University when he met Charles Towne which started their long collaboration on microwave spectroscopy. Towne introduced to him to his sister, Aurelia. They were married in 1951 and they had two daughters and a son. Aurelia was a musician, a mezzo soprano and a choral director.
Schawlow worked with Charles H. Townes and they were co-inventors of the laser. Schalow was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 1976. Today, the laser is prevalent in many areas, including the medical, defense, and communications fields.
Arthur L. Schalow received many awards and honors:
● Stuart Ballantine Medal, 1961
● Thomas Young Medal, and Prize, 1963
● Morris N. Liebmann Memorial Prize, 1964
● California Scientist of the Year, 1973
● Frederick Ives Medal, 1976
● Marconi International Fellowship, 1977
● Arthur Schawlow Medal, Laser Institute of America, 1982
● U.S. Medal of Science, 1991
● University of Ghent, Belgium, 1968
● University of Toronto, Canada, 1970
● University of Bradford, England, 1970
● Honorary Professor, East China Normal University, Shanghai, 1977
● University of Alabama, 1984
● Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 1986
● University of Lund, Sweden, 1988
● Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences
● Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
● President, Optical Society of America, 1975
Arthur L. Schawlow retired from teaching and became a Professor Emeritus, in 1991. His wife, died in an automobile accident in 1991. Schawlow died on April 28, 1999.
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