Adventurer Sandor Holly has created golden opportunities
(This is a longer version of this interview than the one in the printed magazine)
Here at SPIE HQ, staff members talk every day to literally hundreds of fascinating people from around the world. This new quarterly column is intended to give you an idea of the variety of people who have been dedicated to SPIE in some way – a long-time chair or participant, for instance. After all, SPIE spans the globe, touching people in many communities; we’d like to introduce you to a few who have reached back and touched SPIE.
Sandor Holly was the co-chair of the Diamond Optics conference at SPIE’s Annual Meeting from 1988 to 1992. He worked on high-power lasers at Rocketdyne for 22 years. Holly has 18 U.S. and several non-U.S. patents for his work on the development of digital heterodyne interferometer concepts, the pencil beam interferometer, modal sensors, pulsed and CW wavefront sensors, and various other electro-optic devices. His company, InterScience Technology (IST), has designed special effects for movies, entertainment, and theme parks. He was interviewed by Ginger Oppenheimer.
SPIE: What was your early life like, your influences?
Sandor Holly: I escaped from Hungary in November 1956, with one of my four siblings. This country was good to us both; we arrived penniless and spoke no English, but I was able to complete an MS in electrical engineering from MIT in 1960 and a PhD in physics from Harvard in 1969. When I was a teen, three things influenced the rest of my life: I was surrounded by WW II military wreckage that I could ‘play with,’ I became an avid cave explorer, and in 1956 I was lucky to be able to try one of the first three sets of scuba equipment in Hungary. The first piqued my interest in physics and electrical engineering, the second introduced me to real adventure and what a searching spirit is like, and through the third, I met my future wife, Judith. We’ve been married since 1966.
SPIE: What are the highlights of your career?
SH In 1960 I was fortunate to be part of the four-member team at IBM’s Research Center that discovered the second and third types of lasers, demo-ing them successfully two months after the ruby laser was demonstrated by Maiman. I’ve always been interested in them and found myself in the middle of identifying and developing new technologies, procedures, methods, and efforts. In 1967 I received a U.S. patent on an idea that was the forerunner of gyrotrons and free-electro lasers. In 1987, I helped introduce diamond film technology to Rocketdyne; this led to my involvement in SPIE’s conferences on diamond optics.
Through my own company, IST, I’ve had many exciting projects in the entertainment industry. I built one of the first multicolor laser projectors using a large-frame krypton ion laser. In 1978, Universal Studios contracted IST to build the complete, fully automated show control electronics and high-power laser system for the movie Battlestar Galactica. Over the years IST has had many interesting and challenging laser projects in Australia, Japan, Europe, and Mexico. At present I am involved as a consultant with Boeing/LEOS, working on new applications of some recent (patent pending) ideas I had using optical properties of high-frequency millimeter waves.
SPIE: Tell me more about your involvement with SPIE.
SH: About 20 years ago I worked with SPIE to reach across the Iron Curtain to make the first connections in Hungary during the Optics 1984 conference in Budapest; I attended on SPIE’s behalf. My active association with SPIE started in 1974 with the presentation of my first SPIE paper at the Annual Meeting in the Town and Country Hotel in San Diego, and covers about two decades, including chairing perhaps a dozen conferences, including the five diamond optics conferences.
SPIE: Your family?
SH: We have one daughter, Krisztina who has an MS from MIT in mechanical engineering; she is Executive Director of the Deshpande Center at MIT, which ‘connects MIT innovators with the marketplace.’
SPIE: You’ve traveled quite a bit.
SH: Yes, I’m an adventurer at heart. I prefer to visit places that are off the beaten track: the emerald and gold/platinum mines in the jungles of Colombia, the Inca trails and Macchu Picchu in Peru. I’ve participated in many dies in the Caribbean, including searching for sunken galleons, and on the other side of the world, I’ve traveled to various places along the Old Silk Road: Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva in Uzbekistan, for example. With my wife, Judith, we were among the first group of Americans to visit Far East Siberia, Magadan, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok.
SPIE: I hear there’s a gold mine in your life?
SH: I was a member of the board of directors and VP of Technology at the Original Sixteen to One Gold Mine from March 1997 to 2002. This is a publicly held company that owns more than two dozen mines in California. The 16:1 mine is probably the oldest operating gold mine in the country- more than 100 years old – with some 40 miles of underground tunnels and passages, down to 3,000 feet deep. I am still involved, leading projects in the areas of developing a unique imaging metal detectors and various communications and security systems for the mine.