Geek Of The Week: Heinrich Hertz

Geek Of The Week: Heinrich Hertz

Heinrich Hertz was a German physicist who first conclusively proved the existence of the electromagnetic waves predicted by James Clerk Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. The unit of frequency, cycle per second, was named the “Hertz” in his honor. He studied sciences and engineering in the German cities of Dresden, Munich and Berlin, where he studied under Gustav R. Kirchhoff and Hermann von Helmholtz. In 1880, Hertz obtained his PhD from the University of Berlin, and for the next three years remained for post-doctoral study under Helmholtz, serving as his assistant.

After Hertz received his professorship at Karlsruhe he was experimenting with a pair of Riess spirals in the autumn of 1886 when he noticed that discharging a Leyden jar into one of these coils would produce a spark in the other coil. With an idea on how to build an apparatus, Hertz now had a way to proceed with the “Berlin Prize” problem of 1879 on proving Maxwell’s theory (although the actual prize had expired uncollected in 1882). He used a Ruhmkorff coil-driven spark gap and one-meter wire pair as a radiator. Capacity spheres were present at the ends for circuit resonance adjustments. His receiver was a simple half-wave dipole antenna with a micrometer spark gap between the elements. This experiment produced and received what are now called radio waves in the very high frequency range.

Between 1886 and 1889 Hertz would conduct a series of experiments that would prove the effects he was observing were results of Maxwell’s predicted electromagnetic waves. Starting in November 1887 with his paper “On Electromagnetic Effects Produced by Electrical Disturbances in Insulators”, Hertz would send a series of papers to Helmholtz at the Berlin Academy, including papers in 1888 that showed transverse free space electromagnetic waves traveling at a finite speed over a distance. In the apparatus Hertz used, the electric and magnetic fields would radiate away from the wires as transverse waves. Hertz had positioned the oscillator about 12 meters from a zinc reflecting plate to produce standing waves. Each wave was about 4 meters long. Using the ring detector, he recorded how the wave’s magnitude and component direction varied. Hertz measured Maxwell’s waves and demonstrated that the velocity of these waves was equal to the velocity of light. The electric field intensity, polarization and reflection of the waves were also measured by Hertz. These experiments established that light and these waves were both a form of electromagnetic radiation obeying the Maxwell equations.

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avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.