The world knew him for his splashing milk-drop.
His name was Harold Edgerton and an exhibition celebrating his life and work, Flashes of Inspiration, is now on view at the MIT Museum.
He was best known as a photographer of the “unseen.” His life of innovation centered on one idea — making the invisible visible. Millions have seen his stop-action photos which froze the fast-fluttering wings of a hummingbird or “stopped” a bullet as it shattered a light bulb.
The inventor of high-speed photography, the late Edgerton was a major figure in its many applications. He also invented the electronic flash and made several advances in high-speed motion picture techniques.
Throughout a career that spanned nearly half a century, he was known simply as “Doc.” An internationally known electrical engineer, Edgerton gained international fame as a deep-sea explorer and marine archaeologist.
When the National Geographic Society asked Edgerton to develop an underwater camera for Jacques Cousteau, he began a collaboration with the French explorer that lasted several years. Edgerton also developed applications of sonar technology and underwater photography, and participated in an attempt to solve the mystery of Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster. Advances Edgerton made in night aerial photography during World War II were instrumental to the success of the Normandy invasion.
He was a founding partner of EG&G, Inc. of Wellesley, Ma., a corporation specializing in electronic technology. The company developed many specialized strobes, like flashing lights for airplanes and lighthouses, and also for office copying machines.
Edgerton held the title of Institute Professor, a rank MIT reserves for scholars of special distinction. On Jan. 4, 1990 at age 86, Edgerton died of a heart attack at the MIT Faculty Club where he was eating lunch. His memory lives on.