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The Work of Heinrich Hertz

Updated on January 22, 2013

Heinrich Rudolph Hertz was a German physicist. He made possible the development of radio’s, televisions and radars by proving the electricity can be transmitted in electromagnetic waves. He is most commonly known as being the first person to send and receive radio waves. He was instrumental in explaining and further developing the electromagnetic theory of light that had been suggested by another scientist. He was the first person who was able to successfully demonstrate the presence of electromagnetic waves. He did this by designing and building an apparatus which detected the radio waves. His discoveries earned him the honour of having his surname used for the internationally used unit for frequency.

Hertz actually continued or elaborated on the work of a former scientist, James Maxwell who had devised certain mathematical formulas that predicted the presence of electromagnetic waves. He proved many properties of electromagnetic waves such as, they travel and the speed of light. He calculated that an electric current swinging rapidly back and forth in a conducting wire would radiate electromagnetic waves into the surrounding space that we would call an antenna. With such a wire he created and detected oscillations in his lab, using an electric spark, in which the current oscillates. Today we call such waves "radio waves". At first they were actually known as "Hertzian waves."While conducting his experiment, Hertz also accidentally discovered something else. He discovered the photoelectric effect in which light falling on certain types of surfaces can generate electricity. Hertz proved that electromagnetic waves’ velocity and length could be measured. He also discovered that heat and light are electromagnetic waves.

Hertz, for much of his life, also had a deep interest in meteorology. However, he did not contribute much to this field except a few articles on the hygrometer and evaporation of liquids. Hertz also published a few articles in the field of contact mechanics.

Hertz revolutionised the modern world and although most people are not aware of this, without him, we wouldn’t have half of the technology we have today.


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