Frank DeFreitas Holography | Allentown, PA | Phone: 610-770-0341
What Are Holograms Used For?
Updated 28 March 2013
Holograms in Art, Science, and Technology.
By Frank DeFreitas
ABOVE: This short video will show you how you can see a hologram from different sides, as if you were looking at the real object!
The Science of Holography
The science of holography begins with physics: notably light and optics. It was in 1971 that Dr. Dennis Gabor received the Nobel prize (in physics) for his invention of holography. Holograms themselves are a type of optical element that are created with the use of coherent light from lasers. When creating a hologram, one works with lenses, mirrors, beamsplitters, pinholes, and light-sensitive recording media. Chemistry is also involved through the development of silver gelatin film and glass plates. Other scientific disciplines include polarization, constructive and destructive interference, reflection, refraction, and coherence. Mathematics come into play when setting up the recording angles, taking beam path measurements, and calculating exposure times.
Holograms in Communication Arts
As a tool for visual communication, holograms provide the ultimate in realism, and also in the abstract. With a hologram, two solid three dimensional objects can both occupy the same three dimensional space, at the same time. So situations that are not physically possible in the "real" world, are possible with holograms. This certainly leads to some fanciful work by artists! Products can be depicted as if they were physically present, except that your hand passes right through the images. Full-color, computer-generated holograms are becoming better all the time, as computer processing capabilities increase. And true holographic television has been demonstrated on a small experimental scale. With the advent of diode lasers, more amateur and hobbyist holographers are now setting up their own hologram studios, very similar to the amateur and hobbyist photography boom of the 1950's, '60's, and '70's. While holograms on product packaging has declined in recent years, the use of holograms for product security and authentication continues to grow.
The Technology of Holography
Holography is the most technologically advanced science in the world. Especially computer-generated holograms that are written by calculating the three dimensional optical wavefronts that would come off of imaginary objects and scenes. Remember, 3D wavefronts must be calculated from every possible position of the viewer. Unlike the simulated 3D of computer screens, televisions and motion pictures, holographic images must be reproduced in TRUE three dimensional fidelity. If it were possible to zoom in on a holographic object from afar, one would be able to resolve surface bacteria on that object. THAT is the resolving power of holography, and gives some indication of just how much information a hologram stores. From the precise manufacturing tolerances for diode lasers, to the surface coating of the most precise mirrors, at its upper end holography is truly the ultimate in futuristic media production.
If you want to study holography, you will find an entire universe of learning possibilities. You do not need to know everything about the science of holography in order to make a hologram. Just as you do not need to know the light-path mathematics behind your digital cameras optical system to take great pictures. Holography does, however, contain the potential to provide a little bit of everything, from the technical to the artistic. It is a great team activity, especially when combining science students with visual arts students. It allows for dialog between these two groups that normally does not take place in the workplace. But the best holographer of all is the person who excels in both the scientific and the artistic. This is the requirement of the future: to be the best you can be in both. Holography provides the opportunity to do just that.
Here are a few common questions and answers for holograms:
What is Holography?
Holography is a technique which allows the recording and playback of true, three-dimensional images. Unlike other 3-D "pictures", holograms provide what is called "parallax". Parallax allows the viewer to move back and forth, up and down, and see different perspectives -- as if the object were actually there.
Holography is much more than just 3D. It has many uses in science and technology. Holograms can be used to store information (holographic data storage), and test various manufactured parts under stress (holography interferometry) with non-destructive testing.
Holography was invented by Dr. Dennis Gabor at the Imperial College of London. In 1971, Dr. Gabor received the Nobel Prize in physics for holography. Originally, Dr. Gabor's hope was to improve the resolution of the scanning electron microscope.
In the early 60's, upon the invention of the LASER, University of Michigan researchers Leith and Upatnieks created the first three-dimensional holographic images. Around this time, Yuri Dennisyuk of the former Soviet Union also began creating holograms that were viewable using ordinary white light.
To this day, holography continues to provide the most accurate depiction of three-dimensional images in the world, along with many scientific and technological applications.
What is a Hologram?
A hologram is often described as a three-dimensional picture. While this is a good way to get a general idea of what you would experience looking at one, holography provides so much more than what we have come to think of when we think of 3D. At one time, holography was called "laser photography".
Like a traditional photograph, a hologram contains information about the size, shape, brightness and contrast of the object being recorded. But through the use of lasers, and the unique properties of the light they produce, a hologram also contains spatial information. This information is stored in a microscopic and complex pattern of interference within the light sensitive emulsion of the recording media.
The light reflected by a three dimensional object forms a very complicated pattern that is also three dimensional. In order to record the whole pattern, the light used must be highly directional and must be of one color. Such light is called coherent. Because the light from a laser is one color (monochromatic), and leaves the laser with one wave in perfect step with all others, it is perfect for making holograms.
When you shine a light on the hologram, the information that is stored as an interference pattern takes the incoming light and re-creates the original optical wavefront that was relfected off the object. Your eyes and brain now perceive the object as being in front of you once again.
Are all Holograms the Same?
There are many different types and styles of holograms -- each requiring it's own individual technique for production. Some holograms require a laser to view them, others rely only on regular light. There are holograms that show motion, and also holograms that change images as you move by them. Holograms can be in full-color, change color and even project their image out in space toward you when you view them.
As stated above, each hologram has its own individual technique when made. Some holographers know all of the techniques, others specialize in only one. The easiest hologram to make is the "single-beam" hologram. Many holograms that you see in stores and museums are "split-beam" holograms -- many of them copied from holographic masters.
There is a lot to learn and experience when it comes to holography. This is why it is so popular as a hobby for many people.
How are Holograms Made?
Many of the holograms that you see in stores, galleries and other places are made in professional holography laboratories. A typical lab consists of a LASER, a vibration-isolated optical table, lenses, mirrors, optical holders and other assorted equipment. You will also find a dark-room area for processing of the hologram.
With amateur and hobbyist holography, you will find the same equipment but it will usually be made by the person who has the lab. It's possible to make very inexpensive holography equipment that rivals the professional equipment in performance. With the advent of using inexpensive laser diodes, it is now possible for more people to become involved with holography.
How can I make my own holograms?
Making your own holograms has never been easier than right now. For many years now, it has been possible to create holograms without the need of expensive lasers and other optical equipment. Inexpensive laser diodes have replaced traditional lasers needed up until now. Many of these diodes can be found in everyday laser pointers which can be purchased across the country for as little as $5.00 (or less).
Using these inexpensive, easy-to-find diodes, I've created a system which will allow you to create holograms right in your own home, school or office. The system is so portable, it fits into the area the size of a shoebox. In fact, I have named the system Shoebox Holography. This system will allow you to put together your own holography set-up for less than $100, including the laser.
What are Holograms Used For?
Holograms have many uses in art, science and technology. You may find holograms on certain product packaging at your local store. Several magazines have featured holograms on their covers. Holograms are found on credit cards, drivers licenses, and even clothing to help stop counterfeiting. It is possible to take flat medical images, such as a CAT scan and have the final image as a three-dimensional hologram. Computer-generated holograms allow engineers and designers to visually see their creations like never before.
Engineers also use holography to test for fractures and also for quality control during manufacturing. It is called holographic non-destructive testing. Holograms are used in many airplanes, both civilian and military. These holograms provide the pilot with critical information while looking through the cockpits window. It is called a heads-up display. Heads-up displays are now available in certain automobiles as well.
Artists use holography for artistic expression. Many artists feel that exploring the three-dimensional space and pure light that holography offers allows them to convey images and messages that were never before possible with "traditional" media.
Manufacturers use holograms as a form of anti-counterfeiting. Some countries use holograms on their currency for this reason. You'll find holograms on many tickets to events, holograms on your credit cards, and holograms on product packaging.
Holographic data storage relies on holograms to store information. With HDS, you can store the entire contents of the Library of Congress in the area the size of a sugar cube.
The bottom line is this: regardless of whether a hologram contains a three-dimensional image or data, all holograms are used to MANIPULATE LIGHT in some way that is unique to each hologram.
What about TV and Movies?
One of the biggest promises of holography is the dream of holographic television and motion pictures. Unfortunately, we are not quite there yet. A hologram contains a tremendous amount of information . . . and just like the information that you watch on your television, it has to get there somehow. We do not currently have the technology that would allow us to transmit holographic television -- although holographic movies have been experimented with for many years now worldwide.
One day, you will be able to sit down and watch your favorite entertainment holographically projected into your living rooms. Perhaps you will be one of the people that will help make this happen!
How Do I View a Hologram?
If you purchased your hologram in one of the many holography shops across the country, chances are it is a "white-light reflection" hologram. Reflection holograms are popular because you can mat and frame them, and hang them on your wall. In order to view your reflection hologram, you must provide a light source to light up the hologram. This light source is commonly located on your ceiling, such as track lighting. If you do not have track lighting, you may also use one of the inexpensive "clip-on" lamps.
You should place your hologram on the wall at a comfortable height -- taking into consideration both adults and children. It is much easier for a tall person to bend down a little than it is for a shorter person to stretch up to see. A good starting point would be to have the center of your hologram placed between 5-feet 4-inches and 5-feet 8-inches on your wall, measured from the base of the wall.
Your light source should come into the hologram at a starting angle of approx. 45-degrees. Different holograms light up at different angles, but 45-degrees is a good place to start. Have someone hold the light in place, and then view the hologram from around 6 feet or so away from the wall. Adjust the incoming angle until you get the best view of the hologram.
It is very important that you provide the right bulb to light the hologram. The best bulb to use is a clear halogen bulb, purchased at any home supply center. If a halogen bulb is not possible, you should use a clear incandescent bulb. It is important that the bulb is clear and not frosted. A frosted light source will create a blurred hologram -- as will any flourescent lighting.
If you'd like to display your hologram on a lamp table, replace your lamp bulb with a clear bulb and have the hologram angled at a 45-degree angle. While this will not give the quality effect of having the hologram on the wall with track lighting, it will allow you to enjoy your hologram if the other methods are not possible.
What is a LASER?
A LASER is a special source of light that was invented in 1960. The acronym LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emmission of Radiation. There are many different types of lasers, ranging in size from several football fields to the size of a single grain of salt. There are gas lasers, such as the Helium-Neon and Argon lasers; solid-state lasers, such as the ruby laser; and Semi-conductor lasers such as the laser diodes that are found in CD and DVD players and your CD-ROM drives. Each has it own method of producing laser light.
LASERs produce light that has very special characteristics: First, the light is monochromatic, or a single wavelength/color. There are LASERs that produce several wavelengths/colors at the same time, but usually the wavelengths are separated and used individually. Second, the light from a LASER is coherent. Coherent light has all of it's waves travelling in sync with one another -- like a "wave train". Third, the light is highly collimated into a beam, which means that it takes a lot of distance to notice any divergence or convergence of the light.
What are LASERs Used For?
The uses of lasers as we head into the new millenium are too numerous to mention. Lasers perform tasks as highly diversified as removing a cancerous tumor to laying bricks in a straight line to sending your voice across the country when you talk on the phone. Every day there are more and more jobs that require lasers -- and people to fill those jobs.
If you have a highway near you that is under construction, chances are the engineers are using LASER's to layout the new highway. Police will use LASER's to see how fast you are travelling on the new highway. LASER's can be used to restore paintings that are centuries old -- removing oxidation and grime without touching the actual paint. They are used at your supermarket check-out, scanning your purchase. You can have an old tatoo removed using a laser, or have blemishes and age spots removed.
LASER's have been fired to the moon and bounced back using equipment left there by the Apollo astronauts. They entertain us with LASER light shows. We enjoy music on our CD's, movies on our DVD players and store and retrieve information from our computer's CD-ROM, all though the use of lasers. We then print out our information with LASER printers.
Did you ever have one of the frozen "BBQ" hamburgers for lunch? Did you notice the BBQ grill marks on the hamburger? They are not put there from a BBQ, they are put there by passing the hamburger over laser beams before packaging!
If you have a late model car, all of the body parts were welded together using LASERs attached to robotic arms at the factory.
And the list goes on and on. As you can see, LASER's have become a very important part of all of our lives. And its use will continue to grow well into the next century and beyond.
Are LASERs Dangerous?
LASER light is a very "concentrated" type of light and therefore you should NEVER look directly into the beam no matter how low power the laser is. This includes the popular laser pointers currently on the market.
Military LASERs are so powerful that they can knock missles out of the sky. LASERs can provide enough heat to weld metal parts together -- or actually vaporize others.
The LASERs that you will probably come in contact with in your classroom or as an amateur or hobbyist holographer will commonly fall under the category of low-power LASER. You do not need a lot of LASER power to create holograms. Most of the LASERs used for creating holograms fall in the power range of milliwatts, or thousandths of a watt. A good beginning power is 5mW, or 5-thousanths of one watt. These are very safe LASERs to work with, however, as with all LASERs, you still should never look directly into the beam.
Help keep LASERs and holography safe -- practice good experimental proceedures at all times.
Are Holography LASERs Expensive?
Holography has seen an amazing shift in LASER's since the beginning of 1999. Before then, you needed rather-expensive Helium-Neon lasers to make a hologram. Now, holograms can be created using very inexpensive diode lasers -- such as the diodes found in common laser pointers.
A brand new 5-milliwatt Helium-Neon laser will cost you around $800-900 dollars at present. The same power (5-milliwatt) laser diode can be purchased for around $4 - $5.
This has opened the field of holography to many people who would not otherwise have the chance to begin making their own holograms. In fact, you can put an entire holography system together, including the laser, for around $35-$50. This is what I have done with my Shoebox Holography System.
There is absolutely no need to purchase an expensive laser to do holography anymore. That is now in the past.
Which LASER is Best for Holography?
For decades, holographers have relied on the expensive Helium-Neon LASER to create holograms. We have now witnessed a shift in this technology with the advent of inexpensive semiconductor (diode) LASERs.
Many years ago, I spent nearly a half-year researching LASER diodes (from low power to high power) for use in holography. I found, without question, that the inexpensive LASER diode is far superior to ANY expensive Helium-Neon LASER that I have ever used.
-- Frank DeFreitas