EDWIN HERBERT LAND

1909–1991

WRITTEN BY STANLEY H. MERVIS SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY

EDWIN HERBERT LAND—inventor, scientist, entrepreneur, teacher, visionary, and public servant—was born in Bridge-port, Connecticut, on May 7, 1909, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on March 1, 1991, at the age of eighty-one. He was educated at the Norwich Academy and Harvard University.

While still a freshman at Harvard, Land was intrigued with the natural phenomena of polarized light and was challenged simultaneously by the difficulty of using it in science and the impossibility of using it in applied science for industry because the then-available light polarizers were Nicol prisms, large single crystals, heavy, expensive, and necessarily limited in size. There were no "sheet" polarizers. Land conceived the idea of making in sheet form the optical equivalent of a large, single crystal by suspending submicroscopic polarizing particles in plastic or glass and orienting these polarizing particles in a transparent sheet. Following a leave of absence to pursue his ideas, he returned to Harvard bringing with him his new light polarizer. In 1932 at a Harvard physics colloquium he announced a "new polarizer for light in the form of an extensive synthetic sheet," a polarizer known as "J-sheet." He later took another leave of absence to devote himself entirely to research in polarized light. Although he never graduated, Land returned to Harvard on many occasions as a lecturer, and to receive an honorary doctor of science degree in 1957.



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