Dennis Gabor: Father of Holography

Dennis Gabor: Father of Holography

Dennis Gabor was a Hungarian-British electrical engineer and physicist, most notable for inventing holography, for which he later received the 1971 Nobel Prize in Physics.

He was born in Budapest, Hungary, on June 5, 1900, and was the oldest son of Bertalan Gabor, director of a mining company, and Adrienne. His life-long love of physics started at the age of 15. He could not wait until he got to the university and thus learned calculus and worked through the textbook of Chwolson, the largest at that time, in the next two years.

Gabor was very much fascinated by Abbe’s theory of the microscope and by Gabriel Lippmann’s method of color photography, which played such a great part in his work, 30 years later.

Gabor built up a little laboratory at their home, with the help of his brother George, where Gabor repeated most experiments that were modern at that time, such as wireless X-rays and radioactivity. Yet, when he reached university age, he opted for engineering instead of physics as physics was not yet a profession at that time.

After acquiring his degrees, (Diploma at the Technische Hochschule Berlin, 1924, Dr-Ing. in 1927), in electrical engineering, though Gabor sneaked over from the TH as often as possible to the University of Berlin, where physics at that time was at its apogee, with Einstein, Planck, Nernst, and v. Laue.

Gabor’s doctorate work was the development of one of the first high-speed cathode-ray oscillographs and in the course of this, he made the first iron-shrouded magnetic electron lens. In 1927 he joined Siemens & Halske AG where he made his first successful inventions; the high-pressure quartz mercury lamp with superheated vapor and the molybdenum tape seal, since used in millions of street lamps.

After Hitler came to power, Gabor moved to UK. He obtained employment with the British Thomson-Houston Co., Rugby, on an inventor’s agreement. He was here till 1948. The three years after WW-2 were very fruitful to him where he wrote a lot of papers and carried out some basic experiments on holography as well. Then Gabor worked for three years (1950-53) in collaboration with the AEI Research Laboratory but Holography was far away.

On January 1, 1949, Gabor joined the Imperial College of Science & Technology in London as a faculty and he was there until his retirement in 1967. With his doctorands, he solved a lot of problems, almost always difficult ones. The first was the elucidation of Langmuir’s Paradox, the inexplicably intense apparent electron interaction, in low-pressure mercury arcs. The explanation was that the electrons exchanged energy not with one another, by collisions, but by interaction with an oscillating boundary layer at the wall of the discharge vessel.

Other developments were: a holographic microscope, a new electron-velocity spectroscope an analog computer which was a universal, non-linear “learning” predictor, recognizer and simulator of time series, a flat thin color television tube, and a new type of thermionic converter. Theoretical work included communication theory, plasma theory, magnetron theory and he spent several years on a scheme of fusion.

For his invaluable contributions to science, he was awarded several prestigious awards, some of them are

  1. Fellow of the Royal Society in 1956
  2. Thomas Young Medal in 1967.
  3. Cristoforo Colombo Prize in 1967.
  4. Albert Michelson Medal in 1968
  5. Rumford Medal in 1968
  6. Nobel Prize in 1971
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