Person: Heaviside, Oliver
Oliver Heaviside proved important results in electromagnetism and vector calculus. He reduced Maxwell's 20 equations in 20 variables to 4 equations in 2 variables.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Oliver, the youngest of his parents four sons, was born at 55 King Street in Camden Town.
- Academic subjects seemed to hold little attraction for Heaviside however and at age 16 he left school.
- In 1868 Heaviside went to Denmark and became a telegrapher.
- Heaviside became increasingly deaf but he worked on his own researches into electricity.
- Maxwell's treatise fascinated Heaviside and he gave up his job as a telegrapher and devoted his time to the study of the work.
- Although his interest and understanding of this work was deep, Heaviside was not interested in rigour.
- Despite this hatred of rigour, Heaviside was able to greatly simplify Maxwell's 20 equations in 20 variables, replacing them by four equations in two variables.
- Today we call these 'Maxwell's equations' forgetting that they are in fact 'Heaviside's equations'.
- Oliver Heaviside has cleared these away, has opened up a direct route, has made a broad road, and has explored a considerable trace of country.
- Heaviside results on electromagnetism, impressive as they were, were overshadowed by the important methods in vector analysis which he developed in his investigations.
- Although highly successful in obtaining the answer, the correctness of Heaviside's calculus was not proved until Bromwich's work.
- Tait championed quaternions against the vector methods of Heaviside and Gibbs and sent frequent letters to Nature attacking Heaviside's methods.
- Heaviside went on to achieved further advances in knowledge, again receiving less than his just deserts.
- His paper is in error and Heaviside pointed this out in Electromagnetic induction and its propagation published in the Electrician on 3 June 1887.
- In this paper Heaviside gave, for the first time, the conditions necessary to transmit a signal without distortion.
- Heaviside dropped the idea but it was patented in 1904 in the United States.
- Michael Pupin of Columbia University and George Campbell of ATT both read Heaviside's papers about using induction coils at intervals along the telephone line.
- Not all went badly for Heaviside however.
- Thomson, giving his inaugural address in 1889 as President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, described Heaviside as an authority.
- Heaviside was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1891, perhaps the greatest honour he received.
- Whittaker rated Heaviside's operational calculus as one of the three most important discoveries of the late 19th Century.
- In 1902 Heaviside predicted that there was an conducting layer in the atmosphere which allowed radio waves to follow the Earth's curvature.
- This layer in the atmosphere, the Heaviside layer, is named after him.
- It would be a mistake to think that the honours that Heaviside received gave him happiness in the last part of his life.
- In 1909 Heaviside moved to Torquay where he showed increasing evidence of a persecution complex.
Born 18 May 1850, Camden Town, London, England. Died 3 February 1925, Torquay, Devon, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive