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A hologram is a flat surface that, under proper illumination, appears to contain a three-dimensional image. A hologram may also project a three-dimensional image into the air—a lifelike image that can be photographed although it cannot be touched. Because they cannot be copied by ordinary means, holograms are widely used to prevent counterfeiting of documents such as credit cards, driver’s licenses, and admission tickets. The word hologram comes from the Greek roots holos meaning whole and gramma meaning message. The process of making a hologram is called holography. When a hologram is made, light from a laser records an image of the desired object on film or a photographic plate.

There are basically two types of holograms. A reflection hologram is viewed when lit from the front, while a transmission hologram is viewed by shining a light through it from the back side. An embossed hologram is made by backing a transmission hologram with a mirror-like substance, which allows it to be viewed when lit from the front. Holograms can also be made that show moving objects; these sequences, called stereograms, are typically three to 20 seconds long.

Although a hologram is a visual image of a physical object, it is quite different from a photograph. For instance, when an object is photographed, each portion of the photo contains an image of the corresponding portion of the original object. Each section of a hologram, however, contains a complete image of the original object, viewed from a vantage point that corresponds to the section’s position on the hologram. Thus, if the transparent plate containing a transmission hologram is broken, each piece will still be able to project the entire image, albeit from a different point of view. Using a piece from near the top of the holographic plate will produce an image as seen from above, while using a piece from near the bottom of the plate will create the impression of looking upward toward the object.

Another interesting property of holograms is that they preserve the optical properties of objects such as lenses. For instance, consider making a hologram of a magnifying glass placed in front of a butterfly. When viewing the holographic image of those objects, an observer will find that the portions of the butterfly seen through the image of the magnifying glass will be enlarged.

Holographic packaging has been shown to increase the sales of certain products. Projection holograms are especially eye-catching and are used at trade shows and retail stores. They can be used to display extremely delicate or valuable objects. A classic example was an image of a diamond-adorned hand that was projected over the sidewalk outside the Cartier jewelry store in New York City in 1970. Not only did it catch the attention of people walking by it, it attracted television news crews. In fact, it was even attacked by an umbrella-wielding pedestrian who thought it was the “work of the devil.” In another instance, rather than repeatedly handling the fragile skull of the 2,300 year old Lindow Man, researchers studied its holographic image. Scotland Yard’s Forensic Science Department used this holographic image to construct a physical model of the remains of the prehistoric man. As yet another application of holography, former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka displayed a holographic portrait of himself in his restaurant to create a somewhat personal image when he could not be there in person.

Holograms can be made at home by hobbyists for a modest investment in equipment. The process requires a laser and an isolation table to prevent movement of the equipment while the film is being exposed. Holograms are also produced commercially and can be reproduced in large quantities. Using stock artwork, a master hologram for mass production can be created for as little as $2,500, whereas using custom artwork can cost $5,000 to $10,000. Reproducing the image costs from 1 to 4 cents per inch (2.5 cm), depending on the volume; this represents a 40% decrease since embossed holograms were first marketed in the late 1970s. Finished holograms can be attached to other objects as pressure-sensitive labels (0.5 to 1.5 cents each) or by hot stamping (2 to 5 cents each). Once the artwork is finalized, it takes about three months to create and reproduce a batch of commercial holograms. It is estimated that more than $200 million worth of embossed holograms were manufactured in 1995.


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