Edwin Land’s Polaroid cameras have been a part of our lives

Every minute, a little girl will ask to see the picture her parents have just taken. We can now see photos instantly, regardless of whether we want to. In 1943, Jennifer Land was three years old and asked her father to show her the image of the family vacation that he had taken. Didn’t yet exist. Her dad, Edwin Land, went to work on inventing the technology.

The original Polaroid camera saved users the trouble of having to go to a darkroom in order to develop their photos. Lindsay Moe/UnsplashCC BY

Land and his Polaroid Corp. achieved the miracle of almost instantaneous imaging three years later after a lot of scientific research. The camera contains the film exposure and processing equipment. There’s no fuss or muss for the photographer. They just point and shoot and watch the image appear on the photo when it comes out. Land publicly demonstrated his new technology for the first time in February. 21 1947, Land presented his new technology at a meeting of the Optical Society of America.

Land is best known as the inventor of the “instant photograph” or the ubiquitous self-portrait. In 1948, Land’s Polaroid was released in retail stores at prices aimed at the middle class of post-war America. Land was responsible for a number of other technological innovations, many of which revolved around the interaction of light with materials. Land and his team were responsible for the technology that allows us to watch 3D movies and wear the goggles in the cinema. The Land was responsible for the camera on the U-2 spy plane, which appeared in the film ” Bridge of Spies.” He also designed some of the mechanics of the aircraft. He worked on theoretical issues, relying on his deep knowledge of chemistry and physics.

As a vision scientist, I have touched on many of Land’s fields through my work in new imaging techniques, image processing, and human color perception. My work is based on Land’s technological innovation that has made modern imaging possible. I am the recipient of the Edwin H. Land Medal for 2018, awarded by the Optical Society and the Society for Imaging Science and Technology.

Controlling the properties of light

Edwin Land’s first breakthrough in optics came when he was a young boy. He discovered a simple and affordable way to control polarization, one of the most fundamental properties of light.

Light can be thought of as waves that propagate from a light source. The majority of light sources create a mix of locks that have different physical properties, such as wavelengths and amplitudes of vibration. If the amplitude of the light wave changes in a consistent way perpendicularly to the direction it is traveling, then the light is polarized.

A polarizing lens can block light waves that do not match its direction. Fouad A. Saad/Shutterstock.com

The light waves can be rotated, slowed or blocked by using the correct material. Modern 3D glasses work by having one eye receive light waves vibrating in the horizontal plane while the other receives the light vibrations in the vertical plane.

Researchers had built components that controlled polarization using rock crystals. These components were given almost magical names, but they only reduced the speed or amplitude of light waves travelling at certain orientations. Land developed “polarizers”, which he created by embedding small crystals in plastic sheets. The light that passes through them is affected depending on the orientation of the crystals. With his inexpensive polarizer, he was able to filter light in a reliable and practical way so that only wavelengths of a certain orientation would pass.

Land founded the Polaroid Corp. to commercialize his technology in 1937. The sheet polarizers he developed found applications in everything from the identification and adjustment of sunglasses to the identification of chemical substances. In order to reduce glare, polarizing filters were adopted as standard photography equipment. Most computer screens and cell phones use polarized lights to improve contrast, reduce glare, and even turn individual pixels on or off.

Polarizing filtering helps researchers see structures they might not otherwise be able to see – ranging from astronomical features and biological structures. In my field of vision, polarization images are used to localize classes of chemicals such as proteins molecules that leak from blood vessels when diseased eyes. The combination of polarization and high-resolution techniques allows for the detection of cellular damages below the reflective retinal layer.

New way to extract data

Polaroid was used in many labs before the advent of digital data capture, high-resolution displays and videotape. For medical or scientific tests, a graphical or pictorial representation was needed for interpretation. This often came from an analog oscilloscope that plotted voltage or current changes over time. Land’s instant cameras were able to record the output of the oscilloscope quickly enough for analysis.

Eye movements are often recorded in vision science. In 1960, a research study plotted the light reflected by an observer moving their eye on an oscilloscope. This was then photographed using a -mounted Polaroid Camera – similar to the Polaroid cameras that a family would operate at a party. Research labs and medical centers have used setups that included a Polaroid and a mounting rig for decades to collect electrical signals shown on oscilloscope displays. These formats are not as impressive as the digital resolutions of today but were groundbreaking at the time.

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