Once upon a time — literally, in 1960 — Time magazine chose 10 “American Scientists” as its “Men of the Year” (the award would become “Person of the Year 39 years later). Of the 10 scientists chosen to represent their rather broad common profession — George Beadle, Charles Draper, John Enders, Donald A. Glaser, Joshua Lederberg, Willard Libby, Linus Pauling, Edward Purcell, Isidor Rabi, Emilio Segrè, William Shockley, Edward Teller, Charles Townes, James Van Allen, and Robert Woodward — eight of them either had won or would win a Nobel Prize. Considering that such other giants as Albert Einstein were already dead by 1960, this is still a pretty impressive list.
When I was blogging for Optics & Photonics News, I looked up these “1960 Men of the Year” and found that only two of them, physicists Glaser and Townes, were still alive. I met Townes on several occasions during my years at the Optical Society, most recently at the celebration for the 50th anniversary of the laser in May 2010.
Today, while surfing the Web, I stumbled upon an obituary for Glaser; he died in his sleep a few days ago at the age of 86. His official Berkeley obituary goes into more detail about his subsequent careers in molecular biology and neurobiology (after all, when one wins a Nobel at age 34, what else can one do in one’s original career?).
So Townes is the last guy left from the 10 Men of 1960. He’s 96 and will turn 97 later this year. And he’s still not “emeritus.”