Oliver Heaviside

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For other uses of the name Heaviside, please see Heaviside (disambiguation)

Template:Infobox Biography Oliver Heaviside (May 18, 1850February 3, 1925) was a self-taught British engineer, mathematician and physicist. Although at odds with the scientific establishment for most of his life, Heaviside changed the face of mathematics and science for years to come.



Early years

Heaviside was born in Camden Town, London (England). He was short and red-headed, and suffered from scarlet fever during his youth, the illness having a lasting impact on him, leaving him partly deaf. Although he was a good scholar (placed fifth out of five hundred students in 1865), he left school at 16 and began learning about Morse code and electromagnetism.

Heaviside became a telegraph operator, initially in Denmark and, later, at the Great Northern Telegraph Company. Heaviside continued to study and, in 1872, while working as a chief operator in Newcastle upon Tyne, he started an analysis of electricity. In 1874, Heaviside left this position and researched in isolation at his parents' house. Here he helped develop transmission line theory (also known as the "telegrapher's equations").

Heaviside showed mathematically that uniformly distributed inductance in a telegraph line would diminish both attenuation and distortion, and that, if the inductance were great enough and the insulation resistance not too high, the circuit would be distortionless while currents of all frequencies would be equally attenuated. Heaviside's equations helped further the implementation of the telegraph.

Middle years

In 1880, Heaviside researched the skin effect in telegraph transmission lines. Heaviside, after 1880, recast Maxwell's mathematical analysis from its original quaternion form to its modern vector terminology, thereby reducing the original twenty equations in twenty unknowns down to the four differential equations in four unknowns we now know as Maxwell's equations. The four re-formulated Maxwell's equations describe the nature of static and moving electric charges and magnetic dipoles, and the relationship between the two, namely electromagnetic induction.

Between 1880 and 1887, Heaviside developed the operational calculus (involving the D notation for the differential operator, which he is credited with creating), a method of solving differential equations by transforming them into ordinary algebraic equations which caused a great deal of controversy when first introduced, owing to the lack of rigour in his derivation of it. He famously said, "Mathematics is an experimental science, and definitions do not come first, but later on." He was replying to criticism over the use of operators that weren't clearly defined.

In 1887, Heaviside proposed that induction coils inductors should be added to the transatlantic telegraph cable (increasing self-induction) in order to correct the distortion which it suffered. For political reasons, this was not done. Michael Idvorsky Pupin later devised means of extending the range of long-distance telephone communication by placing loading coils (of wire) at intervals along the transmitting wire which followed up on the ideas of Heaviside's research.

Around 1889, after Joseph John Thomson's research into the electron, Heaviside worked on the concept of electromagnetic mass. Heaviside treated this as "real" as material mass, capable of producing the same effects. Wilhelm Wien later verified Heaviside's expression (for low velocities).

In 1891 the British Royal Society recognized Heaviside's contributions to the mathematical description of electromagnetic phenomena by naming him a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1905 Heaviside was given an honrary doctorate by the University of Göttingen.

Later years

In 1902, Heaviside proposed the existence of the Kennelly-Heaviside Layer of the ionosphere which bears his name (which was originally investigated by Nikola Tesla around July 3, 1899). Heaviside's proposal included means by which radio signals are transmitted around the earth's curvature. The existence of the ionosphere was confirmed in 1923.

In later years his behaviour became quite eccentric, having been at odds with the scientific establishment for most of his life. Though he had been an active cyclist in his youth, his health seriously declined in his sixth decade. During this time Heaviside would sign correspondences with the initials "W.O.R.M." after his name though the letters did not stand for anything. Heaviside also started painting his fingernails pink and had granite blocks moved into his house for furniture. Heaviside died in Paignton, Devon (England). Most of his recognition was gained posthumously.

Innovations and discoveries

Heaviside advanced the idea of the Ionosphere, making the prediction of the Kennelly-Heaviside Layer. Heaviside developed the transmission line theory (also known as the "telegrapher's equations"). Heaviside independently co-discovered the poynting vector.

Maxwell reformulation and mathematics

Heaviside simplified and made useful for the sciences the original Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism. This innovation from the reformulation of Maxwell's orignal equations gives the four vector equations known today. Heaviside developed the Heaviside step function, which he used to model the flow of current in an electric circuit. Heaviside developed vectors (and vector calculus). Heaviside formed the operator method for linear differential equations.

Electromagnetic terms

Heaviside coined the term "electret" for the electric analogue of a permanent magnet, or, in other words, any substance that exhibits a quasi-permanent electric polarization (e.g. ferroelectric). In September of 1885, Heaviside coined the term "conductance" and "permeability". In February of 1886, Heaviside coined the term "inductance". In July of 1886, Heaviside coined the term "impedance". In December of 1887, Heaviside coined the term "admittance". In May of 1888, Heaviside coined the term "reluctance". In June of 1887, Heaviside used the term "permittance" which later became susceptance.

See also


  • Heaviside, Oliver, "Electromagnetic induction and its propagation". The Electrician, 1885, 1886, and 1887.
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "Electrical Papers" 1887.
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "On the Forces, Stresses, and Fluxes of Energy in the Electromagnetic Field". Philosopical Transaction of the Royal Society, London, 1893.
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "A gravitational and electromagnetic analogy (". The Electrician, 1893.
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "Electromagnetic theory: The complete & unabridged edition". 1951. ISBN B0000CI0WA
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "Electromagnetic Theory". American Mathematical Society, 1970. ISBN 082840237X
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "Electrical Papers". American Mathematical Society, 1999. ISBN 0828402353
  • Heaviside, Oliver, "Electrical Papers". American Mathematical Society, 2003. ISBN 0821828401

Further reading

Sorted by date.

  • Lee, G., "Oliver Heaviside". London, 1947.
  • "The Heaviside Centenary Volume". The Institution of Electrical Engineers. London, 1950.
  • Josephs, H, J., "Oliver Heaviside : a biography". London, 1963.
  • Josephs, H, J., "The Heaviside Papers found at Paignton in 1957.". Electromagnetic Theory by Oliver Heaviside. New York, 1971.
  • Moore, D. H., "Heaviside Operational Calculus". New York, 1971. ISBN 0444000909
  • Buchwald, J. Z., "From Maxwell to microphysics". Chicago, 1985. ISBN 0226078825
  • Searle, G. F. C., "Oliver Heaviside, the Man". St Albans, 1987. ISBN 0906340055
  • Nahin, P. J., "Oliver Heaviside, Sage in Solitude". IEEE Press, New York, 1988. ISBN 0879422386
  • Laithwaite, E. R., "Oliver Heaviside - establishment shaker". Electrical Review, November 12, 1982.
  • Hunt, B. J., "The Maxwellians". Ithica NY, 1991.ISBN 0801482348
  • Lynch, A. C., "The Sources for a Biography of Oliver Heaviside". History of Technology, Vol. 13, ed. G. Hollister-Short, London & New York, 1991.
  • Yavetz, I., "From Obscurity to Enigma: The Work of Oliver Heaviside, 1872-1889". Basel, 1995. ISBN 3764351802
  • Pickover, Clifford A., "Strange Brains and Genius, The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen". June 2, 1999. ISBN 0688168949
  • Nahin, Paul J., "Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work, and Times of an Electrical Genius of the Victorian Age". November, 2002. ISBN 0801869099

External links and references

  • The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, "Oliver Heaviside (". School of Mathematics and Statistics. University of St Andrews, Scotland
    • Heather, Alan, "Oliver Heaviside (". Torbay Amateur Radio Society.
  • "Mr. Oliver Heaviside (". Obituary, The Times. (GIF File format)
  • Katz, Eugenii, "Oliver Heaviside (". Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • Lienhard, John H., "No. 426: Oliver Heaviside (". The Engines of Our Ingenuity.
  • Ghigo, F., "Pre-History of Radio Astronomy, Oliver Heaviside ( (1850-1925)". National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Green Bank, West Virginia.
  • Wolfram, Stephen, "Heaviside, Oliver ( (1850-1925)". Wolfram Media, Inc.
  • Cook, Nigel, "Electromagnetic Theory, The Foundation of Physical Science (".
  • Naughton, Russell, "Oliver W. Heaviside ( 1850 - 1925". Adventures in CyberSound.
  • Bexte, Peter, "Kabel im Denkraum (" (German)
    • Tr. "Cable in the thinking area"
  • McGinty, Phil, "Oliver Heaviside (". Devon Life, Torbay Library Services.
  • Gustafson, Grant, "Heaviside's Methods (". (PDF)
  • The Dibner Library Portrait Collection, "Oliver Heaviside (".
  • "Physical units (". 1911 Encyclopdiade:Oliver Heaviside

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