Heinrich Hertz

The rigour of science requires that we distinguish well the undraped figure of Nature itself from the gay-coloured vesture with which we clothe her at our pleasure.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (February 22, 1857January 1, 1894) was a German physicist who clarified and expanded the electromagnetic theory of light that had been put forth by Maxwell. He was the first to satisfactorily demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves by building an apparatus to produce and detect VHF or UHF radio waves.


It is not particularly satisfactory to see equations set forth as direct results of observation and experiment, where we used to get long mathematical deductions as apparent proofs of them.
  • It is not particularly satisfactory to see equations set forth as direct results of observation and experiment, where we used to get long mathematical deductions as apparent proofs of them. Nevertheless, I believe that we cannot, without deceiving ourselves, extract much more from known facts than is asserted in the papers referred to. If we wish to lend more color to the theory, there is nothing to prevent us from supplementing all this and aiding our powers of imagination by concrete representations of the various conceptions as to the nature of electric polarisation, the electric current, etc.
    • Electric Waves: Being Researches on the Propagation of Electric Action with Finite Velocity Through Space (1900), p. 28

Quotes about HertzEdit

  • The difficult surface conditions met with when light passes from one medium to another, including such subjects as ellipticity, total reflection, etc., have been critically discussed among others by Neumann (1835) and Rayleigh (1888) but the discrimination between the Fresnel and the Neumann vector was not accomplished without misgiving before the advent of the work of Hertz.
    It appears... that the elastic theories of light, if Kelvin's gyrostatic adynamic ether be admitted, have not been wholly routed. Nevertheless the great electromagnetic theory of light propounded by Maxwell (1864, 'Treatise,' 1873) has been singularly apt not only in explaining all the phenomena reached by the older theories and in predicting entirely novel results, but in harmoniously uniting as parts of a unique doctrine, both the electric or photographic light vector of Fresnel and Cauchy and the magnetic vector of Neumann and MacCullagh. Its predictions have, moreover, been astonishingly verified by the work of Hertz (1890), and it is to-day acquiring added power in the convection theories of Lorentz (1895) and others.
    • Carl Barus, "The Progress of Physics in the Nineteenth Century," II., Science, (Sept. 29, 1905) Vol. 22, pp.387-388, "Theories."
  • The subject of electric oscillation announced in a remarkable paper of Henry in 1842 and threshed out in its main features by Kelvin in 1856, followed by Kirchhoff's treatment of the transmission of oscillations along a wire (1857), has become of discriminating importance between Maxwell's theory of the electric field and the other equally profound theories of an earlier date. These crucial experiments contributed by Hertz (1887, et seq.) showed that electromagnetic waves move with the velocity of light, and like it are capable of being reflected, refracted, brought to interference and polarized. A year later Hertz (1888) worked out the distribution of the vectors in the space surrounding the oscillatory source. ...Some doubt was thrown on the details of Hertz's results by [Edouard] Sarasin and de la Rive's phenomenon of multiple resonance (1890), but this was soon explained away as the necessary result of the occurrence of damped oscillations by Poincaré (1891), by Bjerknes (1891) and others.
    • Carl Barus, "The Progress of Physics in the Nineteenth Century," II., Science, (Sept. 29, 1905) Vol. 22, p.394, "Electric Oscillation."
  • Although experimenters had attempted by various means to submit Maxwell's views to a test, the technical difficulties were so great that no success had been achieved. It appeared clearly from Maxwell's equations that no appreciable effects could be anticipated unless dE/dt was very great; and this meant that the electric intensity E would have to vary with extreme rapidity. The simplest means of obtaining a result of this kind would be to produce an oscillating field of electric intensity in which the oscillations were extremely rapid, say, several millions per second. But no mechanical contrivance could yield such rapid vibrations, and... no other methods suggested themselves. ...
    In 1885 Helmholtz directed the attention of his pupil, Hertz, to the problem. Hertz was one of the most remarkable experimenters of the nineteenth century; he succeeded in at last vanquishing the technical difficulties and in generating by purely electrical means an oscillating electric field of extremely high frequency. Electromagnetic waves of sufficient intensity were thus produced; and after having been sidetracked for a time by a secondary phenomenon whose nature was elucidated by Poincaré, Hertz verified the fact that the waves advanced with the speed of light and indeed possessed all the essential properties of light waves other than those of visibility to the human eye. Thus, as a result of Hertz's experiments, the foundations were laid for the commercial use of wireless and radio; but, more important still, Maxwell's electromagnetic theory of light establishing the intimate connection between electricity and optics had been at last vindicated.
  • If the idea of physical reality had ceased to be purely atomic, it still remained for the time being purely mechanistic; people still tried to explain all events as the motion of inert masses; indeed no other way of looking at things seemed conceivable. Then came the great change, which will be associated for all time with the names of Faraday, Clerk Maxwell, and Hertz.
    • Albert Einstein, "Clerk Maxwell's Influence on the Evolution of the Idea of Physical Reality" in Essays in Science (1934)

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