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Nobel Laureates to discuss global water crisis at annual seminar

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The third Townes and Tagore Annual Seminar in Berkeley, which will focus on the global water crisis, will honor campus physics professor Charles Townes, above.

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JULY 20, 2011

An annual seminar on the UC Berkeley campus this Saturday will feature three Nobel Laureates speaking on a number of issues including science, technology and the burgeoning global water crisis, and will honor one of the speakers’s 96th birthday.

This year marks the third Townes and Tagore Annual Seminar in Berkeley, which focuses on the global water crisis but will include other topics such as the need for creative boldness in innovation, social justice and the future mission of the International Institute of Bengal and Himalayan Basins, which is funding the seminar.

This year’s seminar will feature  three Nobel Laureates in physics: Stanford University professors Martin Perl and Douglas Osheroff,  who will be discussing science and technology, and UC Berkeley professor Charles Townes, who, along with the rest of the speakers, will focus on addressing the issues surrounding the global water crisis and how the institute plans on solving this problem.

While the institute’s projects focus mainly on infrastructure changes in India, institute co-founder Rash Ghosh said improvements in water quality in areas such as the Bengal Basin will benefit the world because the basin pours into the Indian Ocean, which affects water that touches on every country.

He added that the purpose of this year’s seminar is to educate the public about the fact that 50 percent of California’s drinking water that comes from the state’s ground water is in danger of becoming increasingly toxic and is affected by the lower sanitation standards in developing countries such as India.

Ghosh said a primary goal of the institute is to garner government support, because the institute has already assembled many professors’ technical expertise that comes pro-bono to increase the water quality in impoverished countries. He said this would greatly improve the situation of the global water crisis which, without substantive support, will only be exacerbated.

“We are thoughtlessly using this water of natural resources and therefore we have no right to mortgage the future of our children,” Ghosh said.

At the seminar, the institute will also honor Townes — who is both a co-founder and an advisor to the institute — for his 96th birthday, which will occur July 28.

“I am very pleased of course to be honored by the institute,” Townes said.

As the chief guest speaker, Townes said he will be speaking on the improvement of water purification and water supplies in hopes of improving the water purification systems in underdeveloped regions, such as the Indian region of Bengal.

In honor of Townes’ birthday, Perl said he will discuss the need for creative boldness in the realm of innovation, citing Townes as a living example.

According to Perl, in Townes’ earlier days, he was a very competent and supported researcher, but did not want to research what his federal supporters wanted him to. While trying not to upset them, Townes went his own way, Perl added.

Townes’ boldness led him to invent the Microwave Amplification by Stimulation Emission of Radiation, which set the groundwork for the discovery of the modern laser, said Perl.

“I’ve always admired him sticking to his research when it is particularly easy to drift off to other things at an older age, which makes him one of my idols,” Perl said. “He’s my encouragement to go on with research at my age of 84.”

Contact Jonathan Tam at 

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JULY 20, 2011