September 1963 Radio-Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Electronics,
published 1930-1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
In a 1963 editorial
in his Radio−Electronics magazine, Hugo Gernsback dubbed electromagnetic wave
frequencies above 300 GHz as "radioptics."Today, we refer to them as the
sub-millimeter bands, or terahertz bands. The visual spectrum runs from around 0.63 mm (red, 630 nm,
6300 Å) to 0.36 mm (blue, 360 nm, 3600 Å).
Again, Mr. Gernsback shows himself to be a prolific futurist and visionary. He
was more than "all talk and no action," as he possessed many patents for his
inventions and produced some build-it-yourself electronics kits. That was in
addition to being a prolific writer and publisher of both fact and fiction. At
the time of this article, fiber optics was a fledgling technology from a
practical application standpoint. It was used in some critical communications
applications due to its security advantages (difficult to tap), but in the
commercial realm, those decorative multicolor fiber optic lamps were about it
until laser semiconductors hit the shelf. Today, optical fiber is quickly
replacing metallic conductors everywhere, most notable for Internet
Hugo Gernsback, Editor-in-Chief
... We Are Now on the Threshold of a New Radio Era ...
In our March 1962 editorial we pointed out:
"Possibly the most important unexplored region in the electromagnetic spectrum
lies in the band between the radio and the visible wavelengths. As we contemplate
the ultraviolet, then the visible and next the infrared region, we come upon the
largely unknown 'gap' of the extreme infrared or submillimeter waves which merge
into the radio millimeter waves.
"The gap actually extends from 1/10-mm (one-tenth of a millimeter) to 1-millimeter
wavelengths. Microscopic as the gap is, it holds enormous possibilities for the
Actually, the territory of the electronic gap is a vast, almost uncharted entity
that holds many surprises for the future.
Expressed in figures, 1 millimeter is 1/1000 meter (0.0394 inch), while at the
other end of the gap we have 1/10 millimeter or 1/10,000 meter.
Yet the shortest possible radio microwaves measure only about a millimeter. Here
the radio waves merge into light waves. That is why physicists call the radio waves
in this region quasi-optical waves.
Why are these extremely high-frequency radio waves so important for the foreseeable
Chiefly because they will give us more elbow room in the electromagnetic spectrum.
Actually we will be vastly richer in the now overcrowded radio wavelengths, so much
so that we will gain tens of thousands of new wave bands.
Indeed, by the end of this century we will have millions of separate new radio
frequencies that will not inter-fere with each other for these two reasons:
Such extreme, quasi-optical radio waves will, in all likelihood, be coherent,
just as we already have coherent optical waves. Once we have such radio waves and
have solved the problem of detecting them, and, particularly, added power to their
transmission, Nikola Tesla's dream of vast wireless energy at a distance will no
longer be a speculation.
Let us imagine only one such application - the electrical car-which surely in
50 years will replace the present-day bane, the internal-combustion automobile that
now poisons our atmosphere. Overhead and short distances apart on our streets and
highways, pylons with special ROF (radioptic frequency) aerials will provide our
cars with electro-energy at costs not much higher than the present price of gasoline,
which by that time will have been outlawed - it is to be hoped!
In the communication field, the new radioptic waves will cause many radical changes.
Such waves can be directed in a straight thin pencil-like beam from a parabolic
transmission dish. This means that they will be more difficult to intercept than
present microwave beams.
Hence, also, there will be little interference with such communications unless
they all take place in the identical direction. Consequently, there will be millions
of separate channels, particularly if they also go out into space, toward earth
Radioptic waves will be particularly useful for inter-communication between earth
and spacecraft, among spacecraft, between spacecraft and extraterrestrial bodies
such as artificial satellites, the moon and various planets.
By using power beams, it will be quite possible in the future to direct electric
energy to spacecraft in transit between the earth and moon. When properly engineered,
such coherent power beams will hardly spread out, hence great efficiency will be
possible; the eventual transmission loss being negligible. While on earth radioptical
waves cannot bend over the horizon, reasonably straight distances from earth to
spacecraft should be efficient for all practical purposes.
If this seems doubtful, let us consider that sunlight, which is NOT coherent,
hence not efficient, comes to us over a distance of 93 million miles. True, its
source is tremendous, yet the earth receives only a very small percentage of the
sun's total energy. If sunlight were coherent, the earth would have been burned
up billions of years ago.*
Can radioptical power beams kill at a distance? This question will inevitably
arise. The technical difficulties in transmitting hundreds or thousands of kilowatts
efficiently over submillimeter waves, say over hundreds of miles - during this century
seem insurmountable at this moment. t We have already had some success with laser
power beams, but this transmission of energy beams, demonstrated by piercing metals
and diamonds, took place in the laboratory, never over even a moderate distance.
- H. G.
* See also editorial "Millimeter Waves," June 1959 issue Radio-Electronics.
† See also "Lethal Radio Waves," Radio-Electronics, August 1959.
Posted September 25, 2023