«Mr. Marconi sends to Mr. Branly his regards over the Channel through the wireless telegraph, this nice achievement being partly the result of Mr. Branly's remarkable work.»
With this telegram, sent from Dover on March 29th 1899, soon after the first wireless communication was made between France and England, the young Marconi paid homage to his illustrious colleague.
Branly's contribution is briefly accounted for by Marconi ten years later, in his Nobel Lecture, where he explains to have used, in his early experiments, a Branly coherer as a detector, which he slightly modified to increase its stability.
The crossbreed is interesting: the term “coherer” was coined by Lodge, Branly always rejected the concept, preferring “radioconductor”. Marconi, it seems, adopted Lodge's term/concept (quite diffused by then), but utilized Branly's apparatus.
Branly was born in Amiens in 1844. He studied at the Sorbonne and at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. For more than 50 years he was professor of Physics at the Catholic University in Paris, becoming a scientific celebrity, especially in France, where for a long time he was considered the true inventor of wireless.
In 1890 he published the first results of his researches that showed that the electric spark had the power at a distance to change the conductivity of the powdered conductors: this is his discovery, hotly contested by Calzecchi Onesti, who also greatly underestimated the importance of power at a distance. Having devised his “radioconductor”, Branly continued his research on electrical conductivity, with little participation in the future developments of wireless telegraphy.
He thought of himself, above all, as an experimenter, and even if in some instances he served as a consultant and collaborator, he was never seriously attracted to carrying out applied research, to the point that when in 1912 Marconi offered him a job as a technical consultant of his Company (by then well established), Branly kindly refused.
With a degree also in medicine, as of 1896, for about twenty years, he practiced electrotherapy in his own laboratory. He became interested in the “psychic sciences” and telemechanics. In 1900 he was nominated Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and in 1911 became a member of the Academy of Sciences.
He died in Paris in 1940, after having dedicated his entire life to scientific studies.
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