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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Tung Hon Jeong

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Interview with Dr. Tung Hon Jeong
By Sean Johnston
In Santa Clara, California
January 21, 2003

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Tung Hon Jeong; January 21, 2003

ABSTRACT: Discusses early career; growth of his interest in holography; his Lake Forest International Symposia of Display Holography; personalities in the field; ideas of education, and holography can be employed. Early career: BS at Yale, PhD U. Minnesota, in nuclear physics. Optics was lowly regarded in the 1950s — didn’t even take a course in it, because it was geometric optics; about as low as you could get, not appealing to students. We completely ignored optics.

Transcript

In the middle of his PhD thesis, finished in 1962, the laser was invented. He switched because he loved to teach — universities demand publication. So he took a job in a Liberal Arts college, and loved it.

To do nuclear physics, he had to travel to use the machine, so he would spend his summers and weekends flying to Oak Ridge Tennessee, on government grants. Staff there simply maintains the machines; all the researchers were university researchers. Had 3 children, wife had a hard time with him being away — would travel as family there over summer; big decision to make. Also, as a junior researcher he got the midnight shift, so still seldom saw his wife.

If he had become a group leader, he would have had a good time, but not as it was... Got to know spectroscopists — found out about lasers, and found they could turn off the equipment and go home! Being around spectroscopists got him interested in optics. Also wanted to develop a lab for teaching undergraduates. Came across Emmett Leith’s work — wrote him a letter, talking about planning a lab for undergraduates. Out of the blue, he sent, gave, one of his original chessman holograms — a treasure! He is consistently like that.

Subsequently he dropped in and visited Leith. He took his time and showed him all over — even walked him to the door, but not knocked on the door of George Stroke. TJ heard about Stroke — he came to Chicago to give a talk — Stroke really advertised himself — and Leith was good enough to walk TJ to the door of Stroke’s office and leave him to it. After that, TJ studied how to teach holography — so visual, so tactile, and easy enough to do — he could teach anybody.

But nuclear physics was too obtuse — there was no one in the college he could talk to — he had to go to University of Chicago to talk to anyone. Here was an art medium — I could teach artists! And then I began simplifying — did a movie for Encyclopedia Britannica, and made a cylindrical hologram (mass produced) In 1970, but originally made in 1966). Why make on rectangular piece of film? Holographers emulating photographers, as photographers had emulated painters. His first publication in 1966. Gabor was in the audience, and Leith was chair of the meeting!

When you can show something, don’t need to talk about it. Leith couldn’t believe TJ wanted only 5 minutes — but TJ merely wanted to show the hologram itself. Showing is everything. So Gabor was looking at it, amused, peering all around. There was an article in Japan or China the same year, but he didn’t know about it at the time. After that he got grants. It helped him become known. Wilhelm Gariner, of Gariner Corporation, was a technician for Albert Michelson. Subsequently, the company based on his technology still exists — owned by University of Chicago at that time.

The President, in 1968, asked him to develop a system to demonstrate and make holograms, on wheels. Leith bought one of the first ones. Was this the first such work in educational holography? TJ thinks it’s the first commercially produced mass produced system (on magnetic bases) made. Everything he designed he thought was original, but — nope! — someone else had invented it. He doesn’t claim to be first or last- but he WAS influential. School of holography — 1971 or so.

Many rang up looking for a place to learn, but he didn’t know of any. So he opened up the lab in 1971. First students Jody Burns and Rosemary Jackson. Had artists, architects, and medical people. One, a ‘hippy’, ‘affiliated with the universe’, had mystical understanding of holography.

He discovered that such people were serious (The Holographic Universe, Ken Wilbur etc.) — he wants to respect it, but he is now convinced that a hologram is an example of a 2D medium being analogous to some aspects of the universe. E.g. can unfold his cylindrical hologram and unfold it — in 2D see 3D and, in effect, time as well. All dimensions seen simultaneously. Getting the schools started: had people from 40 countries attending. His secretary kept a flag for every country of origin. Typically got 20-30 per year.

Then had more specialized courses — colour holography, interferometry, portraits, photopolymers, etc. Would get specialists, e.g. Hans Bjelkhagen to teach silver halide course, or Nils Abramson to do interferometry; and Charles Vest (“chuck”) (before he was president of MIT) who taught four summers in the school, teaching holographic interferometry. Each summer he got busier — flying in for the day.

Emmett Leith taught too. Didn’t pay them much, but they wanted to be there. First hologram made by Larry Liebermann was made in TJ’s lab — then went to San Francisco to learn from Lloyd Cross. Cvetkovich taught there. Ed Wesley was a student, and worked for TJ for many years afterwards. He’s a violinist — one son is an opera singer; wife has a degree from conservatory. He was attracted to holography as an art medium. In 1976, in sabbatical year, got an adjunct lectureship in at Art Institute of Chicago — now ranked no. 1 in country, and have a dept. of holography now. Gave lectures, and subsequently a dept. grew up.

Chicago art is avant garde — a whole course on Xerox art, and weaving! Has always been interested in it as an art medium. A lot of artists came to learn it. Symposia of holography: In 1980 or 81, decided to have a symposium, in which there was an exhibition. He had had feedback and interest in such a thing. Seemed natural. TJ knew that this is the way it should be — science and art should enrich each other.

Right from the beginning, he conceived a format combining culture, and business, and science. Started with ‘reports from the nations’ — a representative from each country to talk about holography there. Had women scientists, from Christchurch, New Zealand — discovered she had tattooed her entire body, including tongue — but would never have known it? Then ‘new materials’ Then ‘practical holography,’ and theory. Art forum — freewheeling discussion. An eclectic mix

After 1997 retirement, he did one in Austria — big argument there was ‘are laser holograms that are pornographic demeaning to women — why do only nude women? Why don’t you show some dicks?’ Bernadette... was defending it. All of this is no quotes, freewheeling. Be angry, does whatever. And some got angry — some can’t make a living. Business guys suggest to artists, why not do this? Artists say ‘been there! Done that! You don’t get than in a formal setting.

Every 3 years, hope to repeat the symposia away from Lake Forest. Last year wanted to do Quebec City — but Lessard didn’t contact TJ until very late, so couldn’t do it. Next time hope to go to China. Got a nice grant from McDonald’s in 1985 to refurbish the art gallery in Lake Forest. McDonald’s not only gave the money, but also bussed everyone down to ‘hamburger university’ and gave them alcohol and frog’s legs, and commissioned Steve Smith to do holograms for their lobby — the original milk shake etc. Practical Holography was started in 1986 by TJ and Jack Luckman (?) — very near Jan holidays — but then moved later, when TJ couldn’t come, and Steve Benton took over.

How is it different from the Symposia? It was a compromise — what SPIE liked to support — not art so much. Al Razutis gave a paper in the 1986 one, but it didn’t fit the taste of SPIE. TJ wanted to stretch them, get out on a limb? Needed SPIE to support the scale and administration. They do the electronic cross-indexing.

Symposia were taken over (for the last 4 or 5) by SPIE — let them publish, advertise, electronic database support, etc. All the Chinese delegates this time couldn’t get the entry visa to USA owing to terrorist threats, presumably. SPIE invited TJ to start the Practical Holography meetings. It was taught by someone else they weren’t satisfied with — and TJ took it over.

A very different kind of audience at Practical Holography — company supported. Got Shearwater grant to get some artists here. At Lake Forest some couldn’t even afford the fee — they slept in the park, or very cheap dorms. Important names: who made a difference? Well, Gabor, Leith, Denisyuk... Optical computing — Psaltis at Caltech — the non-visual areas of holography. Hesserling is another. Met George Stroke. An entirely different personality — didn’t give TJ much time. One of TJ’s students made a trip to see him, and Stroke didn’t want to see him. Stroke went ‘out of sight’ — his reputation drove him away. Lloyd Cross — he’s in LA somewhere.

A different kind of person — free thinking. Heard second hand that one day he dropped his wife and family. Didn’t care about publishing. Knows about him through Larry Lieberman, in Florida. Lieberman stayed with Cross for a long time. Made apparatus out of ‘found materials’ — springs, cardboard, etc. Cross and Pethick started the sandbox idea — which TJ began to use a lot.

How much interaction between these schools? Completely independent. They weren’t about developing completely new technology. Visited them, had his children’s hologram made by them. Respects their kind of creativity. TJ had advantage that he was with an established College — and could teach theory and equations Fourier transforms etc., while SF was seat of the pants.

For artists who didn’t have time to learn that, he developed a model. OSA has a program ETOP — Education and Training in Optics and Photonics — TJ wrote the chapter on holography, intended for people who want to be technicians. Developed a graphic model to explain diffraction gratings, holograms, coherence length etc.

Since retirement, does lecturing on the road to schools but no more school of holography at Lake Forest. TJ argues that holography is a way into optics, to get kids interested. Has a web site: HOLOKITS.COM — his wife is dealing with it. Has a diode laser, with removable collimator below 5 mW. For $71 have all you need to make 30 holograms — laser, mirrors, chemicals that are safe.

Proudest moment: had been tutoring online a student in Texas. Converted his whole basement into a holography lab. At his last Symposium in 1997 TJ invited him — a 16 yr. old — to give a paper. Forgot about it, but then got letter from MIT admissions office. The kid had written a letter on his greatest influence — and the letter won an award. Has kids online from Singapore, Lebanon, etc. — he doesn’t answer questions directly, and he answers on the web site.

In early 1970s was appointed a travelling lecturer for the OSA — proud moment. Chautauqua program — people with public knowledge give lectures. On thousands of subjects, scholars would identify the most suitable person to do the lecture series, and provide sabbatical grants. Would train other professors as missionaries. From a small liberal arts college, TJ has accomplished much to create a community of holography — he thinks because he didn’t have the burden of publishing. Talks about how holography exemplifies all of mathematics.

How is a picture like a song? Temporal and spatial domains compared by information theory, in terms of Fourier transformations. For everything in a hologram, there is something equivalent in music. Optics and electronics parallels. There is beauty in technology. Spends afternoon talking about this in his courses — sometimes students get lost, but also enthusiastic. He says it induces a sense of awe, absolutely necessary. “The most beautiful idea in the hologram is not what you see, but how it works.” Popular understandings of holograms — ‘bad!’

Appreciates the fact that millions of holograms are now ubiquitous, but ‘embossed holograms are the ugliest holograms’. Holograms on Star Trek ‘bastardised it’. Doesn’t want to re-educate people’s understanding — they have the right to that viewpoint about holograms. He’s not against it — he’s just not for it. Wouldn’t work for it. Nuclear physics loses a lot of people. Some grade schools teach holography in industrial arts class — shop class.

Where does the future lie? The theory of holography will never be ugly. Some years back before TJ learned this gambit, would go to schools and show best holograms. Parents were very skeptical — children open to everything. ‘Don’t want my child to become a starving artist’. So he switched his language. Projected image from transmission hologram — said ‘on this square mm I’m downloading 4 mbits of information in 4 nanoseconds — then parents said ‘wow, my son has to learn that.’ But the children would be interested anyway.

Most of his wife’s business is to sell holokits for parent/child projects — win projects in science fairs. Children can teach teachers. Accessibility to school children — doesn’t like writing papers and sitting down — likes to teach enthusiastic students. So he’s doing that on the internet, running symposia, programs, etc.

Most important thing: the beauty of holography. There are fewer people who really appreciate that science is beautiful — fewer than appreciate pop music. They think it’s dry and boring. Slavish holographic material is good, maybe not the best, but the cheapest.