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Bell Laboratories

During World War II, South Carolina–born Charles Townes worked on nascent microwave technology and designed radar-based bombing systems for Bell Labs. After hostilities ended, he accepted a position at Columbia University. One spring morning in 1951 he experienced a eureka moment when he realized he could generate microwaves with molecules instead of free electrons.

At about five o’clock one morning this past October, the retired physicist Willard S. Boyle received a scientist’s ultimate wake-up call. At first he couldn’t bestir himself—who could be calling at this ungodly hour?—but the phone was insistent, so his wife dragged herself out of bed.

A couple of minutes later, she was shaking him awake. “Stockholm is calling.”

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