Dennis Gabor Biography

Dennis Gabor, a Hungarian-born British electrical engineer and physicist, is best known for his invention of holography. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1971 for his groundbreaking work in developing the holographic method. Gabor began his career in Berlin but had to flee Nazi Germany due to his Jewish heritage. He eventually settled in England and became a British citizen. In 1947, he conceptualized holography and developed the basic technique using conventional filtered-light sources. Gabor went on to become a professor at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, where he conducted research in various fields including physical optics, communication theory, and television. He holds over 100 patents for his contributions to science. Gabor’s pioneering work in holography, which became commercially viable with the invention of the laser in 1960, earned him the title of the “Father of Holography.”

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 78
  • Died on: February 8, 1979
  • Place of death: London
  • City: Budapest, Hungary
  • Discoveries/inventions: Holography
  • Education: Technical University of Berlin, Budapest University of Technology and Economics
  • Awards:
    • 1971 – Nobel Prize in Physics
    • 1970 – IEEE Medal of Honor
    • 1968 – Rumford Medal
    • 1967 – Young Medal and Prize

Childhood & Early Life

Dennis Gabor was born on 5 June 1900, in Budapest, Hungary. He was the oldest son of Günszberg Bernát and Jakobovits Adél. In 1902, the family changed their surname from Günszberg to Gábor. His family was originally Jewish but in 1918, they converted to Lutheranism. Meanwhile, during World War I, he served with the Hungarian artillery in northern Italy.

After the war ended in 1918, he decided to study engineering. However, physics had always been his favourite subject. He began Electrical Engineering studies in Budapest, and later finished at the Technical Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg. He obtained a Diploma, in 1924. He also received the doctorate degree in Engineering in 1927, submitting a thesis on the development of one of the first high speed cathode ray oscillographs.


At the beginning of his career, he developed an interest in electron optics and examined the properties of high voltage electric transmission lines, by using cathode-beam oscillographs. He gradually analysed other electron-beam devices such as electron microscopes and TV tubes.

In 1927, he wrote his doctoral thesis on ‘Recording of Transients in Electric Circuits with the Cathode Ray Oscillograph’ and worked on plasma lamps. In 1933, he had to leave Germany because of his Jewish lineage. After a brief stay in Hungary, he reached England where he was invited to work at the Thomson-Houston company in Rugby, Warwickshire. He eventually became a British citizen in 1946.

In 1947, he invented holography by using a conventional filtered-light source. However, since conventional light sources usually offered either too less light or too diffused light, holography could not be used commercially until the advent of the laser in 1960. His studies further explored the inputs and outputs of electrons, which led him to invent re-holography. He published the related theories in a series of papers between 1946 and 1951.

After a while, he also investigated the mechanism of communication among human beings and developed the theory of granular synthesis which later became the foundation of time-frequency analysis. In 1948, he became a faculty member of Imperial College London. Ten years later, he was made a professor of Applied Electron Physics and continued in the position till his retirement in 1967.

Major Works

Although by profession Dennis Gabor was an electrical engineer, he worked mostly in applied physics. In 1927, he made his first successful invention; the high pressure quartz mercury lamp, which thereafter has been used in millions of street lamps. In 1947, he experimented with the idea of holography and by using conventional filtered-light sources, developed the basic technique. His other work included research on high-speed oscilloscopes, communication theory, physical optics, and television. He received more than 100 patents during his lifetime.

Awards & Achievements

The advent of lasers enabled the practical application of holography and Gabor found worldwide recognition and success. He won several awards and honours during his lifetime. In 1956, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). In 1964, he became Honorary Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and got a D.Sc. degree from the University of London. In 1967, he won the Young Medal and Prize, for distinguished studies in the field of optics, as well as, the Columbus Award of the International Institute for Communications, Genoa. In 1968, he won the first Albert A. Michelson Medal from The Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, followed by the Rumford Medal from the Royal Society. In 1970, he got an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Southampton, won the Medal of Honour from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1971, he won the famed Nobel Prize in Physics, for his invention and development of holography. The same year, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the Delft University of Technology. The next year, he won the Holweck Prize of the Société Française de Physique. The NOVOFER Foundation of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences presents the International Dennis Gabor Award every year to outstanding young scientists researching in the fields of physics and applied technology. The Royal Society of London awards The Gabor Medal for “acknowledged distinction of interdisciplinary work between the life sciences and other disciplines”.

Personal Life & Legacy

Dennis Gabor met his future wife, Marjorie Louise Butler, when he was in Rugby, Warwickshire. The couple married in 1936. He died in South Kensington, London, on 9 February 1979.

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