Dr. Arthur Schawlow 1921 - 1999

Nobel Laureate – Physics 1981

Plaque located at: 436 Sackville Street, Toronto, ON, Canada

Another plaque is also affixed to the west side of the Winchester Public School that Schawlow once attended.

Born in Mount Vernon, New York, Arthur, at the age of three years old, moved to Toronto with his family to the neighbourhood of Cabbagetown, later attending Winchester Public School. “Bud”, as he was called, was a nice young boy. He was not athletic, he read a lot, was smart in school, and skipped some grades. After some difficulty in a regular classroom, his mother took him for an IQ test. His score was extremely high. He was then transferred to the Model School at Church and Gould Streets (now Ryerson University) where Toronto’s “gifted” children went in the 1930s. Arthur also excelled in Boy Scouts, reaching the highest rank – King’s Scout.

As a youngster, he read everything he could find on, things scientific, electrical, mechanical or astronomical. His intent was to study radio engineering, but at that point in the 1930’s, the economic depression was at its height. Very few families could afford to send their children to university, and there were no scholarships in engineering. His sister, Rosemary, scored excellent marks in Grade 13, but didn’t get a scholarship to the University of Toronto, so she voluntarily repeated the year in order to earn marks high enough to win the $125 tuition to Victoria College to study English literature. In 1937, at the age of sixteen, Arthur joined his sister there. His scholarship was for mathematics and physics, and it was physics that he pursued, earning a Ph.D from the University in 1949. While at University, Arthur was very involved in the Toronto amateur jazz scene and played clarinet with a group called the Delta Jazz Band. Listening to traditional jazz from his large record collection continued to stimulate and interest him throughout his life.

While on a postdoctoral fellowship to Columbia University, he met Charles H. Townes, a leader in research on microwave spectroscopy, and their long collaboration began. In 1951, he married Aurelia, Charles Townes’ youngest sister.

Over the ten years that followed, Arthur Schawlow worked as a physicist at Bell Telephone Laboratories, and with his brother-in-law in his spare time. They co-authored a book, published in 1955, entitled Microwave Spectroscopy, and continued to work together on the principles of a device – the Laser.

Arthur Schawlow then went on to become a professor of physics at Stanford University, and was chairman of the department of physics from 1966 to 1970. In 1981 he won the Nobel Prize for Physics for his contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy. Dr. Schawlow retired from teaching and became Professor Emeritus in 1991.

Honours and Awards:

  • Stuart Ballantine Medal (1962),
  • 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. National Medal of Science (1991).
  • Honorary doctorates from University of Ghent, Belgium (1968),
  • University of Toronto, Canada (1970),
  • University of Bradford, England (1970),
  • University of Alabama, U.S.A. (1984),
  • Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland (1986),
  • University of Lund, Sweden (1988).
  • Honorary professor, East China Normal University, Shanghai (1979)
  • Member, U.S. National Academy of Sciences
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • President, Optical Society of America (1975)
  • President, American Physical Society (1981)

Hear him talk:

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