Holography - Overview and History

Overview and History

The Hungarian-British physicist Dennis Gabor (Hungarian name: Gábor Dénes), was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971 "for his invention and development of the holographic method". His work, done in the late 1940s, built on pioneering work in the field of X-ray microscopy by other scientists including Mieczysław Wolfke in 1920 and WL Bragg in 1939. The discovery was an unexpected result of research into improving electron microscopes at the British Thomson-Houston Company in Rugby, England, and the company filed a patent in December 1947 (patent GB685286). The technique as originally invented is still used in electron microscopy, where it is known as electron holography, but optical holography did not really advance until the development of the laser in 1960.

The development of the laser enabled the first practical optical holograms that recorded 3D objects to be made in 1962 by Yuri Denisyuk in the Soviet Union and by Emmett Leith and Juris Upatnieks at the University of Michigan, USA. Early holograms used silver halide photographic emulsions as the recording medium. They were not very efficient as the grating produced absorbed much of the incident light. Various methods of converting the variation in transmission to a variation in refractive index (known as "bleaching") were developed which enabled much more efficient holograms to be produced.

Several types of holograms can be made. Transmission holograms, such as those produced by Leith and Upatnieks, are viewed by shining laser light through them and looking at the reconstructed image from the side of the hologram opposite the source. A later refinement, the "rainbow transmission" hologram, allows more convenient illumination by white light rather than by lasers. Rainbow holograms are commonly used for security and authentication, for example, on credit cards and product packaging.

Another kind of common hologram, the reflection or Denisyuk hologram, can also be viewed using a white-light illumination source on the same side of the hologram as the viewer and is the type of hologram normally seen in holographic displays. They are also capable of multicolour-image reproduction.

Specular holography is a related technique for making three-dimensional images by controlling the motion of specularities on a two-dimensional surface. It works by reflectively or refractively manipulating bundles of light rays, whereas Gabor-style holography works by diffractively reconstructing wavefronts.

Most holograms produced are of static objects but systems for displaying changing scenes on a holographic volumetric display are now being developed.

Holograms can also be used to store, retrieve, and process information optically.

In its early days, holography required high-power expensive lasers, but nowadays, mass-produced low-cost semi-conductor or diode lasers, such as those found in millions of DVD recorders and used in other common applications, can be used to make holograms and have made holography much more accessible to low-budget researchers, artists and dedicated hobbyists.

It was thought that it would be possible to use X-rays to make holograms of molecules and view them using visible light. However, X-ray holograms have not been created to date.

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