The Unforgettable “Doc” Edgerton
Some years ago， off North Carolina's Cape Hatteras， scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took part in a search for the sunken Civil War ironclad Monitor. They hoped to pinpoint its precise location with a sonar device， but failed.
“What a waste，” one scientist said. “We didn't find anything.”
“What do you mean， we didn't find anything？” a cheery voice spoke up. It belonged to Prof. Harold Edgerton， the inventor of the sonar device. “We found it wasn't there.”
That was “Doc，” forever the optimist. He took almost perverse pleasure in an experience that went awry. “Oh， boy，” he'd mutter brightly. “Now we're really going to learn something.”
A tireless inventor， he held 47 patents， not only for sonar equipment but for deep-sea color cameras and lighting systems， as well as for his most recognized contribution to our life today： high-speed photography with electronic flash. He devised the strobe light — a brilliant， rapid flash created by passing electrical current through a vacuum tube filled with xenon gas. Doc called it “God Almighty's lightning in a container.” On cameras and skyscrapers， along airport runways， in copiers and automotive engine timers — it was all Doc's doing.
In exposures down to a millionth of a second he used the strobe to photograph bullets cutting through playing cards， the graceful coronet made by a drop of milk on impact， a hummingbird sculptured in flight. Thanks to Doc's pioneering pictures， we know that a cat laps milk with both sides of its tongue， that bats catch prey with their tail membranes， and that aim isn't affected by the kick of a pistol， because the kick doesn't set in until after the bullet has left the barrel.
Through the years， Doc's dazzling pictures have become classics of science and modern art. Famed photographers Edward Steichen and Ansel Adams have praised them， and the Museum of Modern Art has hung them almost as consistently as Picasso paintings.
“Don't make me out an artist，” Doc would say. “ I'm an engineer. Still， he discarded dozens of photos of that milk drop before he got one with crown points that were esthetically pleasing， Though he complained that he never produced a perfect one， he had post cards of the photo printed in bulk， and he handed them out to everyone he met.
Most of all， Doc was that priceless rarity， the teacher you remember all your life. To him， sharing knowledge meant working together in discovery — and never mind the ego. One of his students remembers him proudly showing off a new idea on automatic strobe flashing. Doc gave his famous crooked grin and arched his eyebrow. “That's a fine idea.” He said. Only later did the student learn that Doc had originated the concept years before.
The world was Doc's laboratory. Over a half-century he explored the ocean floor with Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso（who nicknamed him “Papa Flash”）， tracked this century's longest total eclipse of the sun from the Sahara， used sonar to sound St . Mark's Canal in Venice for the legendary lost column of Luxor， photographed nuclear-bomb explosions at Eniwetok， probed the Caribbean for Spanish gold， and searched repeatedly for Scotland's Loch Ness monster. His energy was so high he often slid down three floors of banisters from his office. “If you don't wake up at three in the morning and want to do something，” Doc liked to say， “you're wasting time.”
他是一位不知疲倦的发明家，持有47项专利，不仅包括声纳设备还有深海彩色照相机和照明系统，以及对我们当今生活做出的最为人所知的贡献：带电子闪光灯的高速摄影技术。他设计出电子闪光灯—— 一种使电流通过充满氙气的真空管而产生明亮快闪的灯光。博士把它称作：“管子里上帝的闪电。”在相机上和摩天大厦上，在机场跑道边，在复印机和自动引擎计数器里— 都包含着博士的创造。