Dennis Gabor – Autobiography
born in Budapest, Hungary, on June 5, 1900, the oldest son of
Bertalan Gabor, director of a mining company, and his wife Adrienne.
My life-long love of physics started suddenly at the age of 15. I
could not wait until I got to the university, I learned the calculus
and worked through the textbook of Chwolson, the largest at that
time, in the next two years. I remember how fascinated I was by
Abbe's theory of the microscope and by Gabriel Lippmann's method of
colour photography, which played such a great part in my work, 30
years later. Also, with my late brother George, we built up a little
laboratory in our home, where we could repeat most experiments which
were modern at that time, such as wireless X-rays and radioactivity.
Yet, when I reached university age, I opted for engineering instead
of physics. Physics was not yet a profession in Hungary, with a
total of half-a-dozen university chairs - and who could have been
presumptious enough to aspire to one of these?
So I acquired
my degrees, (Diploma at the Technische Hochschule Berlin, 1924, Dr-Ing. in
1927), in electrical engineering, though I sneaked over from the TH
as often as possible to the University of Berlin, were physics at
that time was at its apogee, with Einstein, Planck, Nernst and v.
Laue. Though electrical engineering remained my profession, my work
was almost always in applied physics. My doctorate work was the
development of one of the first high speed cathode ray oscillographs
and in the course of this I made the first iron-shrouded magnetic
electron lens. In 1927 I joined the Siemens & Halske AG where I
made my first of my successful inventions; the high pressure quartz
mercury lamp with superheated vapour and the molybdenum tape seal,
since used in millions of street lamps. This was also my first
exercise in serendipity, (the art of looking for something and
finding something else), because I was not after a mercury lamp but
after a cadmium lamp, and that was not a success.
when Hitler came to power, I left Germany and after a short period
in Hungary went to England. At that time, in 1934, England was still
in the depths of the depression, and jobs for foreigners were very
difficult. I obtained employment with the British Thomson-Houston
Co., Rugby, on an inventor's agreement. The invention was a gas
discharge tube with a positive characteristic, which could be
operated on the mains. Unfortunately, most of its light emission was
in the short ultraviolet, so that it failed to give good efficiency
with the available fluorescent powders, but at least it gave me a
foothold in the BTH Research Laboratory, where I remained until the
end of 1948. The years after the war were the most fruitful. I
wrote, among many others, my first papers on communication theory, I
developed a system of stereoscopic cinematography, and in the last
year, 1948 I carried out the basic experiments in holography, at
that time called "wavefront reconstruction". This again was an
exercise in serendipity. The original objective was an improved
electron microscope, capable of resolving atomic lattices and seeing
single atoms. Three year's work, 1950-53, carried out in
collaboration with the AEI Research Laboratory in Aldermaston, led
to some respectable results, but still far from the goal. We had
started 20 years too early. Only in recent years have certain
auxiliary techniques developed to the point when electron holography
could become a success. On the other hand, optical holography has
become a world success after the invention and introduction of the
laser, and acoustical holography has now also made a promising
On January 1, 1949 I joined the Imperial College of
Science & Technology in London, first as a Reader in
Electronics, later as Professor of Applied Electron Physics, until
my retirement in 1967. This was a happy time. With my young
doctorands as collaborators I attacked many problems, almost always
difficult ones. The first was the elucidation of Langmuirs 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. We made also a Wilson cloud chamber, in which the
velocity of particles became measurable by impressing on them a high
frequency, critical field, which produced time marks on the paths,
at the points of maximum ionisation. Other developments were: a
holographic microscope, a new electron-velocity spectroscope an
analogue computer which was a universal, non-linear "learning"
predictor, recognizer and simulator of time series, a flat thin
colour television tube, and a new type of thermionic converter.
Theoretical work included communication theory, plasma theory,
magnetron theory and I spent several years on a scheme of fusion, in
which a critical high temperature plasma would have been established
by a 1000 ampere space charge-compensated ion beam, fast enough to
run over the many unstable modes which arise during its formation.
Fortunately the theory showed that at least one unstable mode always
remained, so that no money had to be spent on its development.
After my retirement in 1967 I remained connected with the
Imperial College as a Senior Research Fellow and I became Staff
Scientist of CBS Laboratories, Stamford, Conn. where I have
collaborated with the President, my life-long friend, Dr. Peter C.
Goldmark in many new schemes of communication and display. This kept
me happily occupied as an inventor, but meanwhile, ever since 1958,
I have spent much time on a new interest; the future of our
industrial civilisation. I became more and more convinced that a
serious mismatch has developed between technology and our social
institutions, and that inventive minds ought to consider social
inventions as their first priority. This conviction has found
expression in three books, Inventing the Future, 1963,
Innovations, 1970, and The Mature Society, 1972.
Though I still have much unfinished technological work on my hands,
I consider this as my first priority in my remaining years.
|Fellow of the Royal Society, 1956.|
|Hon. Member of the Hungarian Academy of
|D.Sc. Univ. of London, 1964, Hon. D.Sc.
Southampton, 1970, and Technological University Delft, 1971.|
|Thomas Young Medal of Physical Society
Cristoforo Colombo Prize of Int. Inst.
Communications, Genoa, 1967.
|Albert Michelson Medal of The Franklin
Institute, Philadelphia, 1968. Rumford Medal of the Royal
Society, 1968. |
|Medal of Honor of the
Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineers,1970. Prix
Holweck of the French Physical Society, 1971. Commander of the
Order of the British Empire, 1970. |
|Married since 1936 to Marjorie Louise,
daughter of Joseph Kennard Butler and Louise Butler of Rugby.
Prix Nobel 1971.
Professor Gabor died in 1979.
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