Arthur Leonard Schawlow


Arthur Leonard Schawlow (28 April 1921 – 5 May 1999) shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with the Dutch-American physicist Nicolaas Bloembergen (b. 1920) and the Swedish physicist Kai Siegbahn (1918–2007) “for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy.” [1] He had studied at the University of Toronto and worked at Bell Labs, later teaching at Columbia University and Stanford University.

Prof. Schawlow was married to Aurelia Townes, younger sister of physicist Charles Hard Townes (1915–2015), with whom he was the father of three children. One son had been diagnosed autistic and Prof. Schawlow became committed to working toward treatments for this condition, working alongside Prof. Robert Hofstadter (1915–1990), whose son was also autistic, and helping establish an Autistic Treatment and Care Facility in Paradise, California, later named the Arthur Schawlow Center in 1999.

A devoted orthodox Christian, Schawlow had once stated “I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.” He was known to be a member of a Methodist Church in California. As an avid fan of traditional American jazz, he had amassed a considerable collection of LP’s and records.

“[T]he context of religion is a great background for doing science. In the words of Psalm 19, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.’ Thus scientific research is a worshipful act, in that it reveals more of the wonders of God’s creation.” [2]

[1] A good description of laser spectroscopy is online at Hyperphysics (Carl Nave, U Georgia)

[2] Arthur Leonard Schawlow (1921–1999). Nobel Laureate in Physics (1981), quoted in “Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists Reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life and Homo Sapiens”, Ed. H. Margenau, R.A. Varghese (Chicago, La Salle, IL: Open Court Press, 1992), 105.
Image online:

SMF AL Schawlow


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