A pair of Nobel-winning honorees created a memorable atmosphere at the Laser Institute of America’s 29th annual International Congress on Applications of Lasers and Electro-Optics (ICALEO®) in Anaheim, Calif., in September.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu earned LIA’s 2010 Arthur L. Schawlow Award, while laser pioneer Dr. Charles Hard Townes, 95, was presented with the organization’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. Both received standing ovations after their presentations at the Sept. 29 awards luncheon.

“It was a huge privilege to witness the presentations of such noteworthy scientists,” said LIA Executive Director Peter Baker. “Longtime attendees agreed that the Awards Luncheon was the best in the history of the event.”

LIA’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dr. Charles H. Townes addressing the ICALEO 2010 Awards Luncheon audience.

Townes held luncheon attendees spellbound with tales of how two Nobel-winning professors senior to him tried to dissuade him from continuing his early research, as well as how the equations necessary to create lasers occurred to him as he sat on a park bench during a conference five decades ago. Chu created a bit of a stir by arriving with his sizable security detail. He proceeded to captivate the audience with recollections of having been a student of Schawlow’s, discussed the particulars of his Nobel work cooling and trapping atoms using a laser, and emphasized his belief in the need to develop a carbon-constrained economy.

Born in Greenville, S.C., on July 28, 1915, Townes — professor emeritus of the University of California, Berkeley, since 1986 — shares a patent for the laser with his late brother-in-law and fellow Nobel winner Schawlow. The pair collaborated on their research at Columbia University and Bell Labs in New York City and together wrote the seminal book “Microwave Spectroscopy” in 1955 and the 1958 paper “Infrared and Optical Masers.” Townes’ award consists of a special citation and a cash prize, and he has been made a fellow and life member of LIA.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (left) pictured with LIA Executive Director Peter Baker.

Chu, 62, co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light, was appointed as energy secretary Dec. 15, 2008, while director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He received a silver medal, a special citation and also became a fellow and lifetime member of LIA.

LIA, the trusted and respected advocate of cutting-edge applications of laser technology since 1968, annually unveils the latest developments and trends in laser-related fields at ICALEO®. The conference is viewed by the laser industry as the premier source of technical information about laser materials processing.