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William Webster Hansen:
Co-Inventor of the Klystron Tube

William W. Hansen (1909 - 1949)
Nationality: American
Contributions: High-energy physics:

William W. Hansen contributed to the development of radar and is regarded as the founder of microwave technology. He developed the klystron (Patent No. 2,269,456) - a vacuum tube essential to radar technology - together with the brothers Russell and Sigurd Varian in 1937.

The klystron tube is a high-frequency amplifier for generating microwaves. It revolutionized high-energy physics and microwave research and led to the airborne radar used in aircraft today. The klystron also has been used in satellite communications, airplane and missile guidance systems, and telephone and television transmission.

In the mid 1920s Bill Hansen was a Stanford University physics undergraduate student and became close friends of Russell Varian, while Russell was a Stanford physics graduate student. Bill Hansen and Russell Varian became roommates. Varian left Stanford soon after and postponed his PhD studies several times for some years to earn some money support an illness in his family, but his and Hansens' communication and collaboration continued. Bill Hansen, meanwhile, completed his both his undergraduate and graduate physics degrees at Stanford, left for a few years as a post doc, and then returned as a Stanford professor in 1934. He later became one of Stanford's most brilliant physicists.

In September 1934, Bill Hansen returned to Stanford and he and Russell Varian roomed together again. Russell Varian was interested in Bill Hansen's projects. Bill was, in turn, interested in Russell and Sig Varian's ideas and added his input. Russell Varian commented, in a paper later, that what was to turn into the klystron had its roots in Bill Hansen's and his early interest in X-rays, going back to their student days and to Bill's continuing involvement in efforts to generate super high voltage X-rays. To quote from Russell: "The first developments which later led to the klystron were the result of an investigation for the purpose of pure physics. Dr. Webster and his associates in the Stanford physics department decided there was an important field of investigation in the realm of million volt X-ray spectroscopy. Since the Ryan laboratory at Stanford had a high voltage generator which could develop approximately three million volts peak, it appeared logical that this transformer could be used to develop a million volt X-rays. However, when the apparatus had been designed and the cost calculated, it turned out to be a very expensive project, and as time went on, it became more and more apparent that finances would not be forthcoming. Therefore, Hansen and I began investigating various other possible sources of high voltages which might be cheaper. Among other ideas, Dr. Hansen proposed the use of a concentric line resonator for generatoring high voltages. Hansen and I discussed this possibility at considerable length and considered what form of concentric line would have the maximum efficiency."

Hansen and the Varian brothers: Sig and Russell, collaborated on many ideas, inventions, and projects in the 1920s-1940s. These ideas and inventions include the "Boomatron": a klystron tube arrangement for a radar transmitter and receiver, the "bunching principle": an electron velocity grouping concept behind the motion of electrons in a resonating klystron tube, the design of the klystron tube, the "Monotron": a variant of the klystron that eventually evolved into the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), nuclear magnetic resonance (work with Felix Bloch), the "rhumbatron": a concentric resonating device for generating high voltages, and a ruling engine to make diffraction gratings.

  • US2,269,456 - Electron Beam Oscillator (klystron vacuum tube) with Russel H. Varian; issued in 1942.
  • US2,571,129 - Scanning Antenna System; issued in 1951.

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