A Gallery of Electromagnetic Personalities 8...
Albert Abraham Michelson (1852-1931) was a German-born U.S. physicist who
established the speed of light as a fundamental constant. He received the 1907 Nobel Prize
for Physics. In 1878 Michelson began work on the passion of his life, the measurement of
the speed of light. His attempt to measure the effect of the earth's velocity through the
supposed ether laid the basis for the theory of relativity.
Edward Williams Morley (1838-1923) was an American chemist whose reputation as
a skilled experimenter attracted the attentionof Michelson. In 1887 the pair performed
what has come to be known as the Michelson-Morley experiment to measure the motion of the
earth through the ether.
Heaviside, Lorentz, FitzGerald
Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925), described as "a short, red-headed Englishman
of autocratic disposition," was a telegrapher, but deafness forced him to retire and
devote himself to investigations of electricity. He became an eccentric recluse,
befriended by FitzGerald and (by correspondence) by Hertz. In 1892 he introduced the
operational calculus (Laplace transforms) to study transient currents in networks and
theoretical aspects of problems in electrical transmission. In 1902, after wireless
telegraphy proved effective over long distances, Heaviside theorized that a conducting
layer of the atmosphere existed that allows radio waves to follow the Earth's curvature.
Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853-1928), a professor of physics at the University of
Leiden, sought to explain the origin of light by the oscillations of charged particles
inside atoms. Under this assumption, a strong magnetic field would effect the wavelength.
The observation of this effect by his pupil, Zeeman, won a Nobel prize for 1902 for the
pair. However, the Lorentz theory could not explain the results of the Michelson-Morley
experiment. Influenced by the proposal of Fitzgerald, Lorentz arrived at the formulas
known as the Lorentz transformations to describe the relation of mass, length and time for
a moving body. These equations form the basis for Einstein's special theory of relativity.
George Francis FitzGerald (1851-1901), a professor at Trinity College, Dublin,
was the first to suggest that an oscillating electric current would produce radio waves,
laying the basis for wireless telegraphy. In 1892 FitzGerald suggested that the results of
the Michelson-Morley experiment could be explained by the contraction of a body along its
its direction of motion.
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), one of the great geniuses of physics,
grew up in Munich where his father and his uncle had a small electrical plant and
engineering works. Einstein's special theory of relativity, first printed in 1905 with the
title "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" had its beginnings in an essay
Einstein wrote at age sixteen. The special theory is often regarded as the capstone of
classical electrodynamic theory.
Return to Taylor's Ohm Page