Making Waves

May 18th, 2009

"Redefining Art," the informative obituary of Willoughby Sharp '61 by his friend Ira Schneider '60, inadvertently repeats the statement that 1987 was the 100th anniversary of the "discovery of the nature of electromagnetic waves" by German physicist Heinrich Hertz (Obituaries, March/April). This is just plain wrong.

The discovery was made by James Clerk Maxwell more than a dozen years before Hertz's experiment which was, in fact, an attempt to verify Maxwell's formulation, in his famous fourth equation, that electromagnetism (em) and light were the same, meaning that em waves should propagate through space in the same manner as light.

It's not Hertz's fault that em waves are called Hertzian waves instead of Maxwellian waves. Unfortunately, Maxwell was so far ahead of his time that no one understood his equation until Einstein fully appreciated Maxwell's accomplishment decades after his death. In fact, the "displacement current" element in Maxwell's equation, incorporating the speed of light, anticipated relativity by forty years.

Jim Munves '43
Prince Edward Island, Canada


What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
May/June 2009