Intelligent Machines

The Whole Picture

Holography’s microscopic origins.

Holography is part of our everyday lives-from a commemorative 3-D Elvis on the cover of TV Guide to the tiny images designed to discourage credit card counterfeiters. Advances such as holographic video (see “Holograms in Motion,” TR November 2002) suggest that it will also be a compelling part of our future. All these technologies have their origin in a serendipitous discovery by Dennis Gabor, a Hungarian scientist who was trying to make an improvement to the electron microscope.

The electron microscope, invented in the 1930s, had a resolution power more than a hundred times greater than that of the best light microscopes of the time. However, because the aperture of electron lenses couldn’t be increased beyond a certain point, the electron microscope stopped just short of resolving individual atoms. In 1947 Gabor was working at the British Thomson-Houston Company in Rugby, England, speculating on ways to get around this limitation. Gabor thought that perhaps he could take a “bad” picture and then correct it using optical means. Because such a picture would be missing important information-the phase of the electron waves, or their position at a particular point in time-this proved impossible. Gabor theorized that if he could combine the light waves coming off the object with a “coherent reference wave” of the same frequency, the resulting interference pattern would have all the information necessary to construct a 3-D image. Gabor named this interference pattern a “hologram,” from the Greek word holos, or “whole,” because it would contain complete information about the object.

Unfortunately, in 1947 no existing source of coherent light was sufficient to create such images. Gabor and his colleagues continued to research the possibilities of holography for several years, but by 1955 holography had fallen into a period of dormancy.

This story is part of our December 2002/January 2003 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

It was spectacularly resurrected in 1960 with the invention of the laser, which supplied the missing source of coherent light needed to create holograms. In 1962 Emmett N. Leith and Juris Upatnieks of the University of Michigan decided to duplicate Gabor’s method using the laser and a technique from their own work developing a type of radar. The next year, they published the first laser holograms: a toy train and a bird. Since then Gabor’s principles have been incorporated into devices such as supermarket bar-code scanners and airplane cockpit displays. And if the rash of current activity in 3-D imagery is any guide, holography has a bright future.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.