Category Archives: Trade Shows

The Passing of an Icon or, “Call me Charlie” Charles Townes

In a way it was a fitting time for the death of Dr. Charles Townes the Nobel laureate who led the team that brought the Laser to life.


Charles H. Townes, a Nobel-winning physicist who helped invent the laser, speaking in 2005 on receiving the Templeton Prize, honoring his efforts to bridge the differences between science and spirituality. Credit Gregory Bull/Associated Press

The announcement came two weeks before one of the largest trade shows in the world devoted to optics, electronics and lasers, namely, Photonics West. It was held at the San Francisco Convention Center,  where Tom Lippens and I were manning the Epner Technology booth along with 1250 other exhibitors and some 27,000 visitors during the week of February 9th. Here is my point: I would venture that as many as 75% of  those 1250 exhibiting companies owed their very existence to the work of Dr. Charles Townes and his associates.

I first met Dr. Townes some thirty years ago at another Epner exhibit stand at CLEO, the big Laser meeting then held in Baltimore. I was discussing some arcane aspect of our Laser Gold coating and its application for NdYAG laser pump chambers to a young laser engineer named Gary Vaillancourt. Standing off to the side was a tall, elderly gentleman patiently waiting for me to finish my conversation with Gary.

Not wanting to lose either potential customer, I signaled to the older man that I was aware that he was waiting.

Gary turned to see the target of my distraction, and then, spotting the gentleman’s name tag, created the most amazing moment I have ever experienced at a trade show. Dropping onto one knee in a genuflection of  honest awe, he reached up and started vigorously shaking Dr. Townes’ hand and exclaiming at the same time, “My God, Dr .Charles Townes….I cannot believe that I am meeting you at last.” It was a scene out of a movie! Townes could not have been more gracious and gave his young acolyte a moment of attention that I’m sure Gary remembers to this day even more vividly that I do.

Our paths crossed again some years later at an SPIE Astronomy conference in Hawaii. He came to my table-top exhibit to discuss our gold for some mirrors for his lab at Berkley.  I of course greeted him as “Dr. Townes” and he smiled as we shook hands and said, “Call me Charlie.”

For a more detailed look at this wonderful man’s incredible contribution to today’s world, read the N.Y. Times obituary linked here.