Dennis Gabor
b. June 5, 1900, Budapest, Hungary
d. February 8, 1979, London, England

Dennis Gabor was Hungarian-born electrical engineer who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1971 for his invention of holography, a system of lensless, three-dimensional photography that has many applications. He is considerd as the father of holography. His other work included research on high-speed oscilloscopes, communication theory, physical optics, and television.

Dennis Gabor (originally Dénes Gábor) was born in Budapest, Hungary, on June 5, 1900, the oldest son of Bertalan Gábor, the director of the Hungarian General Coal Mining Company, and his wife Adrienne. (There is information that he originated from a Jewish family.) His life-long love of physics started at the very early age. The elder Gabor told him about the careers of such men as Thomas Edison. Later in life, Gabor said he could still remember the excitement he felt on his first trip to the Museum of Technology, Budapest at 13. Fascinated by Abbe's theory of the microscope and by Gabriel Lippmann's method of colour photography, he, with his late brother George built up a home laboratory and began experimenting with wireless X-rays and radioactivity.

In 1918, after a brief career in the Hungarian artillery, Gabor enrolled in the Technical University in Budapest. In 1921 he entered the Technische Hochschule Berlin and acquired a Diploma in 1924 and his Doctorate of Engineering in 1927 in electrical engineering with his thesis entitled "Recording of Transients in Electric Circuits with the Cathode Ray Oscillograph". The last part of this work was done in the German Association for High Voltage Networks. While there he spent his free time working on physics at the Charlottenburg Technical University in Berlin. His doctorate work was the development of one of the first high speed cathode ray oscillographs and in the course of this, made the first iron-shrouded magnetic electron lens. In 1927 he joined Siemens & Halske AG and made one of his first successful inventions; the high pressure quartz mercury lamp with superheated vapour and the molybdenum tape seal, since used in millions of street lamps. In what Dennis calls his "first lesson in serendipity," he invented the mercury lamp while attempting to develop a cadmium lamp which proved unsuccessful.

With the rise of Hitler in 1933, Dennis Gabor left Germany (because he was Jewish) and after a short period in Hungary went to depression stricken England. Finding a jobs as a foreigner was very difficult. He eventually obtained employment with the British firm, Thomson-Houston Co., in Rugby, on an inventor's agreement, later as a member of the research staff, and stayed there for 14 years. This was a fruitful epoch. The low-pressure gas discharge lamp with a positive characteristic, which could be operated on the mains like an incandescent lamp, with which he started his work, was not a success, as it had insufficient life, but he was luckier with other inventions, such as a cathode ray tube with a memory, and finally with holography.

Holography was born as an attempt to improve the electron microscope. It was well known since 1936 that the resolving power of electron microscopes had to stop tantalizingly short of resolving atomic lattices, because the aperture of electron objectives could not be increased beyond a certain limit, owing to the spherical aberration which could not be corrected. Gabor considered the possibility of taking first a "bad" picture and correcting it by light-optical means. But in an ordinary electron microgram this is not possible, because one-half (the more important half) of the information has dropped out: the phase of the electron waves. Gabor thought "of course the phase has dropped out, because there was nothing to compare it with.

Dennis Gabor, inventor of holography,
is standing next to his holographic portrait.

Let us see what happens if we put in a known wave, as a phase standard." A little mathematical analysis showed that this would indeed work, one has only to superpose on the "bad" image, which is entirely unlike the true image, a "coherent background", (nowadays called a "reference wave".) If now one illuminates the "bad" picture with the coherent background, or a light-optical simulation of it, the true image will come out, because the original wavefront is reconstructed. Gabor termed the "bad" image, (which is indeed entirely unlike the object, it rather looks like a collection of fingerprints) a "hologram" (from the Greek holos, "the whole"), because it contained all the information. He then verified the theory, in 1948, by light-optical experiments with coherent light. 


Dennis Gabor (left) recieving his Nobel prize in 1971

These "classic" holograms are now well known, and have been often reproduced. The first holograms were of poor quality, but the principle was good. The 1971 Nobel Prize for Physics was presented to Gabor “for discovering the method of holography and contributing to its development”. This principle serves as a basis for producing spatial three-dimensional images.


Dennis Gabor (right), Prize winner for Physics, is congratulated by Olaf Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden at the Royal dinner in December 1971 in Stockholm.


Dennis Gabor, 1969

Other work by Gabor during his time with the BTHCo was his Theory of Communication, which is now known as "structural" theory as distinguished from the Shannon-Wiener "statistical" theory. One of its results was what Gabor called the "complex signal" and which is in the same relation to the real signal as the "phasor" to a sine wave.

Dennis Gabor


Dennis Gabor and
his wife ca. 1975 

Gabor was happily married to Marjorie Louise, daughter of Joseph Kennard Butler and Louise Butler of Rugby, in 1936. The couple had no children. 


On January 1, 1949 he joined the Imperial College of Science & Technology in London, first as a Reader (Associate Professor) in Electronics, and later as Professor of Applied Electron Physics, until his retirement in 1967. With post-graduate assistants, he attacked many problems, almost always difficult ones, such as the elucidation of "Langmuir Paradox", the inexplicably intense apparent electron interaction, in low pressure mercury arcs. They also made 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 a scheme of fusion.

Dennis Gabor at the Research Institute for Automation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1972)


Dr. Gabor had many honours including: Fellow of the Royal Society, 1956; Hon. Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 1964; D.Sc. Univ. of London, 1964, Hon. D.Sc. Univ. of Southampton, 1970, and Technological University Delft, 1971; Thomas Young Medal of Physical Society London, 1967; 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 “For his ingenious and exciting discovery and verification of the principles of holography”, 1970; Prix Holweck of the French Physical Society, 1971; Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1970. Gabor was awarded more than 100 patents.


These historic laser transmission, pulsed portraits of Dr. Dennis Gabor, inventor of holography, were recorded in 1971 by R. Rinehart, McDonnell Douglas Electronics Company, St. Charles, MO. The portraits commemorated Gabor's winning of the Nobel Prize that year.

Dennis Gabor was a Swedish tennis champion and could sing all the famous opera arias in their original language. As a lover of literature and a witty companion, he dazzled his friends with torrents of jokes from Pest.

Dennis Gabor and Salvador Dali

The first artist, who used amazing properties of the holograms, was Salvador Dali. He always was enthusiastic about optics in general and opportunities of its application for creation of volumetric illusion. Before invention of the laser and its use in holography, the stereoscopic vision was most suitable for purposes, Dali planned. And it is quite natural, that his aspiration to take possession of the third dimension, became paramount importance for him. He had some discussions with Dennis Gabor about the possible applications of holography for art.


After his retirement in 1967 he remained connected with the Imperial College as a Senior Research Fellow and became Staff Scientist of CBS Laboratories, Stamford, Conn. where he collaborated with the President, life-long friend, and father of the color television, Dr. Peter C. Goldmark, in many new schemes of communication and display. Though happy with his work, he begain to spend much time on a new interest: the future of industrial civilization. He became more and more convinced that a serious mismatch has developed between technology and 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. He wrote, "Though I still have much unfinished technological work on my hands, I consider this as my first priority in my remaining years."


The Museum of Holography (11 Mercer Street, New York) was founded in 1976 as an international center for the understanding and advancement of this new medium.

Posy Jackson, Director of the Museum of Holography, with Dr. Dennis Gabor during his visit to the Museum in March, 1977.

Dr. Dennis Gabor signs a copy of the Museum of Holography's inaugural exhibition catalogue, "Through The Looking Glass," during his historic visit to the museum on March 17, 1977.


In his late years, Gabor led a somewhat complicated life, in three countries; in England, where Gabor was still a Senior Research Fellow in his College, in the U.S.A., where he was Staff Scientist of CBS Laboratories, and in Italy, where he built a villa near Rome. There Gabor had at last enough leisure to pursue his two favourite occupations; sunbathing and writing on social matters, - in particular about the dangers of leisure!


Gabor's bust

Gabor's bust

Dennis Gabor passed away on 9 July 1979 in London. He was survived by his wife and a brother, Andre. In order to recognize outstanding professional achievements related to innovation in Hungary, the NOVOFER Foundation established the Dennis Gabor Award in 1989.

Gabor Medal

This text has been compiled from the biographies of Gabor available in the Internet:
( 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 )