Milestone-Proposal:Invention of Holography by Dennis Gabor

From IEEE Milestones Wiki

To see comments, or add a comment to this discussion, click here.

Docket #:2012-02

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation?

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old?

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy.

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity?

Was it of at least regional importance?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)?

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony?

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated?

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:

1947 - circa 1960

Title of the proposed milestone:

Invention of Holography by Dennis Gabor

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: UK&RI Section
Senior Officer Name: Professor Nick Wright

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: UK&RI Section
Senior Officer Name: Mr Roland Saam

Unit: UK&RI Section
Senior Officer Name: Professor Charles Turner

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: UK&RI Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Professor Nihal Sinnadurai

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Peter Hill
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

Imperial College, London

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. On or in the building of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Imperial College, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, SW7 2AZ, England, UK. Dennis Gabor moved from the BTH company to the Electrical Engineering Department of Imperial College, University of London, in 1949, where he was appointed Reader in Electronics. He was promoted to Professor of Applied Electron Physics in the same Department in 1958.

Are the original buildings extant?


Details of the plaque mounting:

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

There is a staffed desk at the Exhibition Road entrance of Imperial College, where visitors could ask for admittance or guidance; a walk across an open courtyard to the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Building is required.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

Imperial College, London

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

Gabor’s invention of holography was an unanticipated step and relied on his understanding of images in the Fourier domain. He understood the importance of phase information, whereas previously only the magnitude spectra had been considered of any importance in the processing and reproduction of images. With the aid of phase information, a three-dimensional reconstruction of an image is possible. The practical realization of this concept requires a coherent light source, and therefore had to await the invention of the laser before substantial applications of holography could be achieved. However prior to that, the invention led to improvements in electron microscopy and to new understandings and viewpoints on image processing and other forms of signal processing. At the time of the invention, Gabor evidently had a good opinion of his own achievement, and wrote in a letter to Max Born in June 1948 [9]: “……. a new thing and I have no doubt that it is my luckiest find yet …. ….. made me happier than anything I have done in the last 20 years …..

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

Full demonstration of the invention had to await the emergance of the the laser circa 1960, as processing the phase information required for the holograms depends on the availability of a coherent light source.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The invention of holography by Gabor was in many respects ahead of other work and ideas in the processing of images, and as such was unique. G. Saxby [10] reports in his 1988 book that there were six and a half thousand papers on holography, of which he judged ‘….. more than a thousand … contain material of importance’. X-ray holograms were achieved by 1987 at Lawrence Livermore laboratories, and it can be considered that some aspects of synthetic aperture radar systems have concepts in common with holography. For addit1. Biography of Fellows of Royal Society. Written by T.E. Allibone: doi: 10.1098/rsbm.1980.0004, Biogr. Mems Fell. R. Soc. 1980 26, 106-147 2. “Dennis Gabor – Contributions to Communication Theory & Signal Processing”, by P.C.J. Hill, EUROCON 2007 proceedings. 3. 4. At IEEE GHN site: 5. Wikipedia: 6. Biography (in Hungarian): 7. Wikepedia entry in Hungarian (some added information not in the English language version): 8. Information about some of his inventions, etc. (in Hungarian): 9. R.R.A. Syms ‘Practical Volume Holography’, Oxford Science Publications, Clarendon Press, 1990 10. G. Saxby ‘Practical Holography’, Prentice Hall, 1988. 11 D. Gabor, Inventing the Future, Secker & Warburg, 1963, [and Pelican Books, London, 1964].

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.