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Dr Stephen Benton

Inventor of Rainbow Holograms, founding member of

MIT Media Lab 

Dec 1, 1941 - Nov 9, 2003  (61 years old)

1990 Nov 3D Media Technology convention
1990_11_04 3D Media Technology convention
Dr. Stephen Benton by Susan Pinsky
1990_06_29 NSA Manchester NH Stephen Ben
1990_06_29 National Stereoscopic Assn conv Manchester NH Dr Stephen Benton and David Burder by Susan Pinsky
1992_11_04 3DMT dinner Starkman, Pinsky,
1992_11_04 3DMT dinner David Starkman, Susan Pinsky, David Burder, unnamed man, Gerald Marks, and Dr Stephen Benton by Ron Labbe
Stephen Benton History of Holography inf
benton_color resized SAI_result.jpg
Dove color credit card hologram.jpg
Stephen Benton book.jpg
The only all-inclusive treatment of holography - from fundamental principles to the most advanced concepts. While several existing texts cover different aspects of the field of holography, none provides a complete, up-to-date, and accessible view of its popular, scientific, and engineering aspects. Now, from an author team that includes one of the world's pioneers in the field, Holographic Imaging fills this need with a single, comprehensive text that covers the subject from traditional holography to the cutting-edge development of the world's most advanced three-dimensional holographic images, holographic printing, and holographic video. Written in an engaging and easy-to-follow style, Holographic Imaging promotes a hands-on approach to making holograms and provides readers with a working understanding of how and why they work. Following a brief introduction to the fundamentals of light and diffraction, coverage includes: the diffraction efficiency of gratings, "platonic" holography, a ray-tracing analysis of holography, holographic lenses and in-line "Gabor" holography, off-axis "Leith & Upatnieks" holography, non-laser illumination of holograms, phase conjunction and real image projection, full-aperture transfer holography, white-light transmission "rainbow" holography, practical issues in rainbow holography, in-line "Denisyuk" reflection holography, off-axis reflection holography, edge-lit holography, computational display holography, holographic printing, and holographic television. Helpful diagrams and equations that summarize the mathematical and physical principles for each technique discussed make this an approachable resource for readers from a variety of backgrounds, including undergraduate and postgraduate students with an interest in optics, optoelectronics, and information display, as well as researchers, scientists, engineers, and technology-savvy artists.
2008_06_xx The Holography Times volume 2
2008_06_xx The Holography Times volume 2 issue no 3-12-638
2004 Aug - Optics and Photonics News - S
2004 Aug - Optics and Photonics News - Stephen Benton interview
1986 Jul 24 El Paso Times, TX - Dr Stephen Benton mentioned
in holography article
white light hologram c.jpg
1983_12_02 Daily Utah Chronicle, Salt Lake City, UT
1987_03_16 Florida Today, Cocoa, FL colo
1987_03_16 Florida Today, Cocoa, FL color images article
1990_06_29 NSA Manchester, NH Stephen Be


t the 1990 National Stereoscopic Association Convention in Manchester, NH Benton presented a Stereo Theater 

show titled "Stereoscopic Holography", which covered the basics of his work at MIT and his thoughts on the convergence of stereography and holography (SW Vol 17 No 3, page 22). In effect, Benton was to holography what Oliver Wendell Holmes was to stereography, in that it was his invention which made possible the mass production and distribution of what had before been an exotic and expensive technology.


His rainbow holograms are now seen everywhere from credit cards to magazines, cereal boxes, keychains, etc. thanks to their inexpensive embossed reproduction on reflective foil. At the time of his NSA presentation, he was in charge of the Spatial Imaging Group at the MIT Media Lab where the goal, as he put it, was to "bring three dimensionality to the visual interface" between humans, computers, and other modes of current visual technology.


Some of the results of that work were on display in the conventions exhibits room in the form of three full-color holograms -- one computer generated, one portrait of Dr Harold "Doc" Edgerton (made shortly before his death in January of 1990) with whom Benton had worked at MIT.


Benton became founding head of the MIT Spatial Imaging Group in 1982. A founding faculty member of the Media Lab in 1984, Benton delighted in both the scientific and aesthetic applications of holography. He held 14 patents in optical physics, photography and holography, and his own works in holography have been displayed at the Museum of Holography in New York. He described holography as a true "intersection of art, science and technology."

                                                -- John Dennis, Editor of Stereo World,  

                        publication of the National Stereoscopic Association 

Doc Edgerton reflective hologram at MIT.
Doc Edgerton reflective hologram at MIT taken by
Stephen Benton
Dove color credit card hologram.jpg
chess pieces hologram.jpg
Stephen Benton the man behind the Rainbo
Please Note - all photos will enlarge bo
Box 6x4 your 3D images are welcome box with bars.jpg
1990_06_29 NSA Manchester, NH Stephen Benton
giving  Keynote Address at annual banquet by John Dennis 

Stephen A. Benton, inventor of the rainbow hologram and a pioneer in medical imaging and fine arts holography, died of brain cancer , Nov. 9 2003. He was 61.  Benton was director of the MA Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) and the Rudge ('48) and Nancy Allen Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Laboratory.

MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "Steve brought a joy and spirit of inventiveness to all that he did. He was a gifted teacher, scientist, engineer and artist who personified the best of MIT."

Benton was known for his enthusiasm for all things optical -- an enthusiasm, he said, that was ignited the minute he put on a pair of plastic 3-D glasses to watch the film "The House of Wax," at age 11. "There was a realism and a sense of excitement like nothing I had ever felt before. Not only was I amazed; I determined then and there to figure out how it worked," Benton once said.


Benton was born in San Francisco in 1941 and grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif. He received his undergraduate degree from MIT in electrical engineering (1963) and worked with stroboscopy pioneer Professor Harold "Doc" Edgerton. During this time, Benton also worked at the Polaroid Corp., participating in Edwin Land's vision research laboratory. Benton received the M.S. (1964) and Ph.D. (1968) from Harvard University.


"Steve was not only a superb scientist who led his field for decades, he was also a wonderful practical craftsman of the holographic image, and a Pied Piper for students, artists and designers who worked with advanced imaging technology. His influence on the art and design worlds has been profound and enduring," said architecture professor William J. Mitchell, who is academic head of MIT's Program in Media Arts and Sciences.


Benton had his first glimpse of a hologram in 1964. It was a "little coffee cup, but it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. I knew my life would never be the same," he said. Holography works like photography in that it records light wave patterns on chemically sensitive film or glass. Converging direct and indirect laser beams create its exciting 3-D effect.


Benton invented rainbow holography -- a process that makes a hologram visible using common white light, also known in its credit card iteration as "Benton holograms."


Benton returned to MIT as a visiting scientist in the Laser Research Center in 1980. He became founding head of the Spatial Imaging Group in 1982. A founding faculty member of the Media Lab in 1984, Benton delighted in both the scientific and aesthetic applications of holography. He held 14 patents in optical physics, photography and holography, and his own works in holography have been displayed at the Museum of Holography in New York.


In 1985, Benton began generating synthetic holograms from 3-D digital databases, initially creating a 3-D image of a green car floating in front of the Boston skyline.


He described holography as a true "intersection of art, science and technology." While he considered viewing a good hologram to be a "magical experience," the rigor and depth of his research yielded far more than visual wizardry. Holograms have been used to create three-dimensional composites of CT and MRI scans that have been very useful in medical diagnosis.

In 1968, Benton began working on the rainbow hologram, or the Benton hologram, at Polaroid Corporation. Rainbow holography makes use of common white light to visualize holograms rather than lasers, thereby leading "holography out of the lab". This type of hologram is commonly seen as the dove on the VISA card. The first rainbow hologram, termed "Motif 1," was presented on a 4-by-5-inch glass plate. It consisted of three chess pieces illuminated by a single white light bulb. Dr. Benton first presented his invention to the optical society in California in 1968. This discovery was also of great interest to the artistic community, as "fiercely bright images which could be manipulated in an artistic context were observed". Since the rainbow hologram was very easy to mass-produce, today, credit card companies and state agencies widely make use of rainbow holograms to deter counterfeiting of credit cards and identification cards.

His research in holography helped in the advancement of holographic technology integral to medical imaging devices like CT and MRI scanners.

In 1988, Dr. Benton patented methods and devices for projecting and recording holographic stereograms. This invention utilized a semi-cylindrical "alcove" display system in front of which an image is projected. This provides the viewer with a wider angle of view compared to the traditional hologram (180 degrees compared to 30 degrees), allowing viewers to look around most of the image content.


Among his many achievements, Dr. Benton was active in a number of professional societies. In 1999, he held the position of vice president for the Society for Imaging Science and Technology, and from 1990 – 1993, he served as a member of the board of directors for SPIE. He played a vital role as a member of OSA's board from 1978 – 1981, having been president of the New England section of OSA from 1976 – 1977.   Dr Benton was a Fellow of OSA, SPIE, and the Society for Imaging Science and Technology. He also was a member of the Board of trustees for the Museum of Holography in New York and was the chairman for the U.S. National Committee for the International Commission for Optics from 1980-1984. He received the Edwin H. Land Medal in 2005.

"As a world leader in both technology and the arts, Steve Benton epitomized the Media Lab. Rather than mere users of holography, he and his lab invented many aspects of it, including the basic science behind holographic video," said Nicholas Negroponte, chairman of the MIT Media Labs and the Jerome Wiesner Professor of Media Technology.


Benton is survived by his wife, Jeanne Lamphier Benton; a daughter, Julia Benton; a son, James; and brothers Nicholas and Chris. He was a longtime resident of Lincoln, Mass. 

                                   - - WEBB CHAPPELL

White Light Rainbow Transmission image b
White Light Rainbow Transmission image by Stephen Benton
1986_07_23 Star Tribune, Mpls, MN Hologr
1986_07_23 Star Tribune, Mpls, MN "Holograms that float in the air"
Stephen A Benton Rainbow Spaceman.jpg
Stephen A Benton
Rainbow Spaceman Hologram
1979_10_12 Los Angeles Times, LA CA.jpg
1979_10_12 Los Angeles Times, LA CA
Benton Stephen A Ph.D. MIT.jpg
Dove color credit card hologram.jpg
The White Light Hologram "Dove" on most Visa credit cards
Figure above is an example of rainbow ho
Figure above is an example of rainbow hologram from MIT
1988 Mar 17 The Guardian London, England
1988_03_17 The Guardian London, England - Dr Stephen Benton
1996 Dr Stephen Benton 2003 Nov 14 artic
2003_11_14 Dr Stephen Benton
Engine No 9 1978
1998 Stephen Benton-Enhanced.jpg
1998 Stephen Benton
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