Laser pioneer’s daughter uses light to trap and study nerve cells

Dr. Ellen Townes-Andersonis a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosciences at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, N.J., United States — about 20 miles away from the Bell Labs facility where her father Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow filed for their maser patent in 1958. Her current work involves using laser “tweezers” (1) to grab neurons for study by placing them on electrodes.

In an exclusive video interview with Laser Institute of America (LIA), Townes-Anderson recalled how her work led her to a rare collaboration with her Nobel Prize-winning father.

Dr. Ellen Townes-Anderson with her optical trap equipment in her lab at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey, USA. Credit: Geoff Giordano / Laser Institute of America.

Dr. Ellen Townes-Anderson with her optical trap equipment in her lab at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey, USA. Credit: Geoff Giordano / Laser Institute of America.

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55th anniversary of the laser’s invention

Fifty five years ago the laser, one of the most important and versatile scientific instruments of all time, was invented. It was on 16 May 1960, that the North American physicist and engineer, Theodore Maiman, obtained the first laser emission.

Theodore Maiman (1927-2007), winner of the Wolf Foundation Prize in Physics, 1983 Credit: AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives.

Theodore Maiman (1927-2007), winner of the Wolf Foundation Prize in Physics, 1983 Credit: AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives.

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What would Charlie do?

For many, Dr. Charlie Townes is a renowned scholar and for me, well, it is different.

A day after returning from the IYL2015 opening ceremony trip, I open my laptop to send an email to Charlie but I see another email that he has passed away! I am shocked, confused and upset. Thoughts are running through my head: “but we were supposed to meet soon; but I had gifts for him from UNESCO; I can’t imagine what Frances is going through now.” He was looking forward to become 100, and for some reason everyone, including me, believed he would. I cannot stop my tears. Last 4 years flashed in my memory; there are too many emotions and thoughts going on in my head for me to decipher at the moment.

Charlie and Frances Towens and I met in his office at 557 Birge Hall on Tuesday, May 13th,2014 11:00am for first time.  “5/6/2014 Dear Sona Hosseini, I reply to your email of May 4.  I would be glad to see you. Charlie Townes” Credits: Sona Hosseini.

Charlie and Frances Towens and I met in his office at 557 Birge Hall on Tuesday, May 13th,2014 11:00am for first time.
“5/6/2014
Dear Sona Hosseini,
I reply to your email of May 4. I would be glad to see you.
Charlie Townes”
Credits: Sona Hosseini.

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