From white elephant to Nobel Prize: Dennis Gabor’s wavefront reconstruction

Johnston, S.F. (2005) From white elephant to Nobel Prize: Dennis Gabor’s wavefront reconstruction. Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences, 36(1), pp. 35-70. (doi: 10.1525/hsps.2005.36.1.35)



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Dennis Gabor devised a new concept for optical imaging in 1947 that went by a variety of names over the following decade: holoscopy, wavefront reconstruction, interference microscopy, diffraction microscopy and Gaboroscopy. A well-connected and creative research engineer, Gabor worked actively to publicize and exploit his concept, but the scheme failed to capture the interest of many researchers. Gabor’s theory was repeatedly deemed unintuitive and baffling; the technique was appraised by his contemporaries to be of dubious practicality and, at best, constrained to a narrow branch of science. By the late 1950s, Gabor’s subject had been assessed by its handful of practitioners to be a white elephant. Nevertheless, the concept was later rehabilitated by the research of Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks at the University of Michigan, and Yury Denisyuk at the Vavilov Institute in Leningrad. What had been judged a failure was recast as a success: evaluations of Gabor’s work were transformed during the 1960s, when it was represented as the foundation on which to construct the new and distinctly different subject of holography, a re-evaluation that gained the Nobel Prize for Physics for Gabor alone in 1971. This paper focuses on the difficulties experienced in constructing a meaningful subject, a practical application and a viable technical community from Gabor’s ideas during the decade 1947-1957.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:history of holography; Dennis Gabor; wavefront reconstruction; 20th century optics; hologram; Gordon L. Rogers; Lawrence Bragg; interference microscope
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Johnston, Professor Sean
Authors: Johnston, S.F.
Subjects:Q Science > Q Science (General)
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social & Environmental Sustainability
Journal Name:Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
Publisher:University of California Press
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2005 University of California Press
First Published:First published in Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 36(1):35-70
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
339051Holography, holographers, and their historySean JohnstonThe Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland (CARNEGIE)UNSPECIFIEDIS - INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES
339052Holography, holographers, and their historySean JohnstonBritish Academy (BRIT-ACAD)SG-34511Interdisciplinary Studies
339053Holography, holographers, and their historySean JohnstonShearwater Foundation (SHEARWATER)UNSPECIFIEDIS - INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES