Radio: A Sound Move

Here comes the science. Jolyon Webber delves into the history behind the science of the radio

Radio-antennaeIn the early 1860s the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived four equations that together describe the behaviour of electricity and magnetism:

Gauss’s Law
Gauss’s Law for Magnetism
Faraday’s Law
and Ampère’s Law.
They predicted the existence of the previously unknown phenomenon of electromagnetic waves; demonstrating that electricity, magnetism and light are all manifestations of the electromagnetic field. Over the next half-century scientists and engineers built increasingly elaborate devices to produce and detect them, eventually giving birth to a new technology: radio. Einstein called Maxwell’s equations ‘the most important event in physics since Newton’s time, not only because of their wealth of content, but also because they form a pattern for a new type of law’.

Whilst Guglielmo Marconi is commonly considered the father of radio, many notable figures were involved in its development. It was, in fact, not him but a Canadian, Reginald Fessenden, who first succeeded in transmitting speech over the airwaves. Alongside Karl Ferndinand Braun, Marconi was awarded the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics, “in recognition of their contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy”, but the prior and concurrent work of David E Hughes, Heinrich Hertz, Édouard Branly, J C Bose and Nikola Tesla, among others, contributed significantly to the development of arguably the most vital communication platform of the 20th century.