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"If you're a research scientist what you want is not retirement, but another 500 years."

b.1909 d.1991
Edwin Herbert Land is famous for the Polaroid Land camera, but his scientific contributions were not limited to photography. He is second only to Edison in the number of patents received (535). He also served as a science advisor to President Eisenhower during the Cold War and spearheaded the development of the U-2 spy plane.

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Land attended Harvard University briefly, but quit to concentrate on his studies at the New York Public Library. Harvard awarded an honorary doctorate to him in 1957 -- among the more than twenty honorary degrees he would receive.

Land built on the work of Erasmus Bartholin, Thomas Young, William Nicol, and Robert Wood in developing his first polarizers - or Nicol prisms. These were used to measure the angle of polarization of compounds. Existing Nicol prisms were expensive, bulky and of limited aperture. Land's used inexpensive transparent plastic and were patented in 1929.

Land was a tireless researcher who even late in life prided himself on conducting at least one experiment each day. His wife, Helen, assisted him in much of his early laboratory work - in an era when not many women were allowed near science laboratories. He and Helen had two daughters, Jennifer and Valerie.

Land's work in light polarizers led to LCD displays and polarized sunglasses. In photography he created the cameras and film for instant dry pictures -- he founded Polaroid in 1937. 3D movie glasses were possible because of Land. He also developed the Retinex theory of color vision -- a model for how human color perception is neurologically sensed.

Among his numerous awards Land received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science, and the W.O. Baker Award (for his work in national security) and he was named a member of Britain's Royal Society. Land was a generous benefactor encouraging science education. MIT and CalTech in particular received large financial endowments. His gifts were often aimed at promoting undergraduate participation in cutting edge research. In retirement Land founded the Rowland Institute for Science.


As an aside, as a child I could never figure out the "land camera". I heard it advertised on TV all the time, but it made no sense. What scientific principle existed where a camera would work on land, but not on water? It was much later when I realized it was a "Land" -- proper name -- camera.

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