Another week, another edition of Saturday Syllabi to help highlight college courses from around the world — learning minus the loans. We’ve hit a good stride so far, bringing you courses from famous names and other solid sources. Here comes the knowledge train, back for more.

This week we’re getting holographic at M.I.T.

Class: Holographic Imaging, an undergraduate course

Professors: Michael Halle and Stephen Benton

Course Description: “This course teaches holography from a scientific and analytical point of view, moving from interference and diffraction to imaging of single points to the display of three-dimensional images. Using a “hands-on” approach, students explore the underlying physical phenomena that make holograms work, as well as designing laboratory setups to make their own images. The course also teaches mathematical techniques that allow the behavior of holography to be understood, predicted, and harnessed.

Holography today brings together the fields of optics, chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering, visualization, three-dimensional display, and human perception in a unique and comprehensive way. As such, MAS.450 offers interesting and useful exposure to a wide range of principles and ideas. As a course satisfying the Institute Laboratory Requirement, MAS.450 teaches about science, scientific research, and the scientific method through observation and exploration, hinting at the excitement that inventors feel before they put their final equations to paper.”

Course Conduct: “Although the reading list covers a wide variety of books on holography, none of them is a particularly good match to the imaging and research-preparatory orientation of this course. We will circulate drafts of Prof. Benton’s forthcoming book on holography, and occasionally refer to a book by P.M. Hariharan entitled Optical Holography, now available in paperback. For getting started in holographic practice, the Holography Handbook, by Unterseher, Hansen and Schlesinger is an easy-to-follow account of holography at an advanced craft level. Less funky and more advanced is Saxby’s new edition of Practical Holography, which we are evaluating as a reference source (your comments will be welcomed). Details of all of these are in the Reading List. This course will attempt to navigate between these extremes, conveying a working knowledge of the underlying physical principles and their mathematical descriptions, and a working knowledge of state-of-the-art laboratory techniques…

We hope that a wide variety of students with a wide variety of backgrounds and motivations will find this course interesting. But there will be a definite theoretical and mathematical emphasis to the conduct of the course, as we work to lay the foundations for a new research program in holography at MIT. We occasionally have to employ concepts from calculus (and complex algebra & phasors for graduate students), but the everyday working level will be based on what we call “shop math,” by which we mean the algebra, plane geometry and trigonometry that people like toolmakers use in pursuit of their trade. You will need a calculator that handles trig functions (and pencils of several colors) for the homework and for the quizzes. For many of you, shop math will make some discussions much longer and more tedious than they need to be; use the extra time to contemplate the optical mysteries involved!”

Reading List: “Although holography was invented more than 50 years ago, and entered its modern (laser) age about 35 years ago, it remains an infant and struggling medium, and its literature is correspondingly scattered and often hard to find. This course will depend mainly on readings from draft chapters of Prof. Benton’s forthcoming book on holography. However, there are many things left to learn in the literature.

Many of the items listed here are available at various libraries at MIT, and catalog numbers will gradually join this list (bring in those you dig out, too). Some of the other books can be examined at the Spatial Imaging Laboratory (although not checked out). Accumulating your own library will be slow because many of these volumes were produced in small numbers, and may now be out of print. We will appreciate any additions to this shopping list you may wish to recommend. Books that might be referred to in class are grouped first — the others are intended only as collateral reading suggestions. Much of the important original literature is in the archival journals, such as the Journal of the Optical Society of America, as well as in the Symposium Proceedings listed below. Most of the readings have extensive bibliographies, and a specialized list of journal references might be finished by the end of the term. Patents can also be an important source of information, but are not included here.”

  • Electron Micrographs of Hologram Cross Sections (fr. Akagi et. al.) (October 8, 1998)

Holograms are the best, there’s no way around it. We’ve seen them in sci-fi movies since the beginning of the genre, and now they’re actually becoming a reality. Getting to take a class to actually talk about and potentially make them is just next-level awesome.

But before your holographic dreams get out of hand, this class sounds like a ton of work simply because definitive research in the field remains scant. The professors’ admission that the primary reading in the course will be drafts of their forthcoming books is an indication of the rarity of solid scholarship on the topic, as is the call for any suggestions to the syllabus. Rather than presenting a series of hoops for students to jump through, this syllabus puts forth a hopeful vision for exploring as colleagues in a field where, as the professors put it, “there are many things left to learn.”