If some optical Rip Van Winkle from 1970 woke up today after his
long nap, he might ask: Whatever happened to holography?
invention and development of the holographic method.” Like
many Nobels, the choice was controversial. American scientists
were surprised that Leith and Upatnieks did not share the prize
for having essentially revived holography from the realm of
dead ideas by solving the twin image problem and using lasers.
In his book Holographic Visions, science historian Sean
Johnston points the blame at George W. Stroke, a European-born physicist who joined the University of Michigan faculty
in 1963, where he started a holographic program on the main
campus that came to compete with Leith’s group at Willow
Run. Stroke claimed his work was more important that Leith’s,
but lost a power struggle at Michigan and left the university
in 1967, Johnston writes. Then he argues that Stroke tried to
influence the Nobel committee.
Yet Susan Gamble, a holographer who wrote a doctoral
dissertation on the history of science at Cambridge University,
argues that a different type of politics was involved. Willow
Run, known by a series of names over the years, was fundamentally a military research laboratory, and Leith and Upatnieks were mainly engaged in military work.
Students had protested Michigan’s involvement in military
research, and by 1971 opposition to the Vietnam war was
strong in Europe as well as within the U.S. student population.
Could the Nobel committee have decided that they would
send the world the wrong message by giving a Nobel for work
done under military contracts? It’s a plausible argument.
If some optical Rip Van Winkle from 1970 woke up today
after his long nap, he might ask: Whatever happened to holography? It has not lived up to its great expectations, but in that
it has plenty of company. We in optics may be spoiled by the
tremendous growth of fiber-optic communications and laser
technology. Holography is still alive, but it has not kept up
other areas of optics.
Holography has moved out of the spotlight. The Holography Museum, founded in 1977 during the heyday of holographic art, went bankrupt in the early 1990s and sold its
collection to the MIT Museum. Many artists have moved on
to other things, but lately the noted artist James Turrell has
turned to holography, in a series of 1- to 2-m pieces produced
with Holographics North.
Yet holographic displays are far from dead, says holographer
and consultant Michael Wenyon. He cites Zebra Imaging in
Austin, where former associates of Benton’s do cutting-edge
holographic imagery. The company has sold the Pentagon
thousands of their holographic geospatial maps for tactical
planning. Last year it made the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing
Jeff Hecht ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a science and technology writer
based in Auburndale, Mass., U.S.A. Member
[ References and Resources ]
>> D. Gabor. “A New Microscopic Principle,” Nature 161, 777-8 (1948).
>> P. Kirkpatrick and H.M.A. El-Sum. “Image formation by reconstructed wavefronts I. Physical principles and methods of refinement,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 46, 825-31 (1956).
>> E.N. Leith and J. Upatnieks. “Reconstructed Wavefronts and Communication Theory,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 52, 1123-30 (1962).
>> E.N. Leith and J. Upatnieks. “Wavefront reconstruction with continuous tone objects,” J. Opt. Soc. Am. 53, 1377-81 (1963).
>> E.N. Leith and J. Upatnieks. “Wavefront reconstruction with diffused illumination and three-dimensional objects,” J. Opt. Soc. Am.
54, 1295-1301 (1964).
>> E.N. Leith and J. Upatnieks. “Photography by Laser,” Sci. Am.
212( 6), 34-5 (1965).
>> S. Johnston. Holographic Visions: A History of a New Science,
>> “Emmett Leith (1927-2005): Inventor of Practical Holography,” University of Michigan EECS News (Spring-Summer 2006): www.eecs.
>> D. Gabor. Nobel Lecture, Dec 11, 1971, “Holography, 1948-1971”
>> George Wilhelm Stroke. Oral History Interview: www.ieeeghn.org/
>> “History of Holography”: www.holophile.com/history.htm.
>> S.A. Gamble. “The Hologram and its Antecedents 1891-1965: The
Illusory History of a Three-Dimensional Illusion,” dissertation 2004,
Wolfson College, University of Cambridge.