"I was 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.
In 1933, 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."