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Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

Heinrich Hertz died in Bonn on January 1st 1894, due to a serious illness, at the young age of 36. A brilliant career, already recognized by great international distinctions, was suddenly interrupted. In the same year, the twenty-year-old Guglielmo Marconi devised his audacious project: utilizing electromagnetic waves (at the time called “Hertzian” waves) for telegraphic transmissions. Some see in this chronologic coincidence a sign of destiny, almost as if the baton had been handed over unknowingly.

Hertz was born in Hamburg in 1857. He soon displayed a keen interest for laboratory research, which led him to study engineering (in Dresden) and later physics (in Munich and Berlin). He studied under Hermann von Helmholtz, and collaborated as an assistant in Berlin before going on to teach at Kiel, Karlsruhe and Bonn.

His research received international attention when, between 1887-8, he demonstrated that electrical energy travels in waves with a frequency that can be calculated. Maxwell's theory, which was arousing much skepticism in the scientific realm, finds confirmation. More research ensued, further exploring the behavior of these invisible waves. His experimentation was thus the starting point, the first decisive step that led to the invention of wireless telegraphy. He also discovered the photoelectric effect, inaugurating another field of investigation in modern physics.

Marconi did not fail to recognize the importance of Hertz, who had paved the way to experiments and research in several fields, among these, of course, wireless telegraphy. The same experiment that definitively confirmed Marconi's intuitions, conducted numerous times at Villa Griffone in 1895, was carried out – based on what Marconi himself declares in his Nobel Lecture – utilizing a Hertz oscillator.

Hence if Hertz had not died prematurely, would the history of radiocommunications have been different? As always, it is impossible to answer these kinds of questions. The fact remains that he was one of the main initiators of science as we know it today, and not only for the results that he achieved: with his mastery of both mathematical theories and experimental procedures, Hertz represented a sort of prototype, a new kind of ideal researcher, a model for physicists of the XXth century.

 

 

 

   

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Francesco Paresceparesce francesco

Marconi was the right man in the right place at the right time. He was the right man because he had the ideal combination of personal characteristics for the job: persistence, daring, technical ability, charisma and flair for public relations.



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