Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation


Main content start

The Early Development of the Ginzton Laboratory

E.L. Ginzton

Since the early 1930's, William W. Hansen, had wanted to use high-frequency waves to accelerate particles to high energy. Two brothers, Sigurd and Russell Varian, who were interested in generating the very-high-frequency short wavelength signals needed for radar and direction finding, began working with Hansen in the basement of the old physics building. Utilizing Hansen's earlier invention, the cavity resonator, they demonstrated in 1937 the first very-high-frequency source, which they named the klystron. Hansen pioneered the development of microwave theory and techniques for testing microwave systems and gave courses on microwave theory at Stanford and during World War II to physicists who were being recruited for research on the subject.

After the war, Hansen returned to his original objective of accelerating electrons to high energies. Working with three graduate students, he demonstrated the first 4.5 MeV linear accelerator in 1947. His progress report to his sponsor, the Office of Naval Research, contained only four words, "We have accelerated electrons." To produce higher energies, 30 MW klystrons a thousand times more powerful than had been made before, were developed by his associates Edward Ginzton and Marvin Chodorow, and three years after Hansen's untimely death in 1949, a 1 BeV 220 foot long accelerator was completed. This work eventually led to the two mile long 25 BeV SLAC accelerator and the first use of the electron storage ring for x-ray spectroscopy in the Stanford Synchotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL).

Separate Laboratories

Upon completion of the 1 BeV accelerator, the original laboratory split into two parts, the Microwave Laboratory (later renamed the Ginzton Laboratory) and the High Energy Physics Laboratory (HEPL, later renamed the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory). The Microwave Laboratory, under its director Edward L. Ginzton, concentrated on microwave research for scientific purposes, while HEPL investigated the application of the new accelerator for basic physics research. The students and faculty of the Microwave Laboratory were drawn mainly from the Physics Department (later from the Applied Physics Department) and the Electrical Engineering Department.

Under Ginzton and Chodorow's leadership, research continued on microwave high-power, traveling-wave amplifiers and klystrons. This basic work on waves was later extended to the investigation of other types of wave phenomena. Examples were waves in plasmas (Gordon Kino, Peter Sturrock, and others); the development of acoustic surface wave devices (John Shaw, Calvin Quate, Gordon Kino, and Bert Auld); waves in ferrites (Bert Auld and John Shaw); the invention of the acoustic microscope by Calvin Quate; and the development of a wide range of basic theory of maser and laser concepts by Tony Siegman and Ed Jaynes. This was followed by the demonstration of optical parametric oscillators and of the acousto-optic filter by Steve Harris, as well as the later development of diode-pumped lasers by Bob Byer. A fiber optics group was established under the leadership of John Shaw, who invented the fiber-optic gyroscope.

The Applied Physics Department and the Ginzton Laboratory

In 1961 Edward Ginzton retired from Stanford to become CEO and Chairman of Varian Associates and Marvin Chodorow became Director of the Microwave Laboratory. The following year Marvin Chodorow and Hubert Heffner established the Applied Physics Division within the School of Humanities and Sciences, which in 1968 became the Applied Physics Department. As the name implies, this Department specializes in teaching and research in applications of physics. The activities of the laboratory broadened when Walter Harrison and Ted Geballe joined the Applied Physics Department. Geballe set up a superconductivity materials group which eventually included Mac Beasley and Aharon Kapitulnik. Geballe and his coworkers demonstrated the first layered superconductors. Harrison and later Seb Doniach and others carried out theoretical investigations of condensed matter.

In 1976, the laboratory was renamed The Ginzton Laboratory after its first director, and the library was named after the late Hugh Heffner. The Ginzton Laboratory now pursues a wide range of research on quantum electronics, semiconductor lasers, picosecond pulse techniques, optical microscopy, tunneling and force microscopy, fiber optics, condensed matter, superconductive materials and their microwave applications, and acoustic techniques for nondestructive evaluation of semiconductors and other materials.