Aleksandr Stepanovich Popov Biography (1859-1906)


Had Aleksandr Stepanovich Popov stayed with his initial vocation, he would never have been involved with radio.

Born on March 16, 1859, in Turinsk, Russia, Popov followed in his father's footsteps and studied for the priesthood. During his seminary years, he becameinterested in engineering, physics, and mathematics. When he graduated from the seminary, he decided to attend the St. Petersburg University's Faculty ofPhysics and Mathematics.

When Popov graduated in 1882, he was offered a teaching position at the university. He refused because there was no opportunity to become involved in electrical engineering research. Instead, he became an assistant at the Torpedo School in Kronstadt, Russia, teaching electricity and magnetism to naval specialists.

In 1888, Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) discovered invisible electromagnetic radiation. Two years later Édouard Branly (1844-1940) discovered that electrical resistance in metallic powders decreased when subjected to an electromagnetic discharge; in other words, the powders stuck together. Oliver Lodge used this discovery to invent a device to detect electromagnetic waves. Calleda coherer, the device contained metal filings that cohered under the influence of electromagnetic waves.

Popov further improved the coherer. By attaching an antenna to the device, heshowed it was possible to receive " Hertzian waves" that had been transmitted a distance of 260 ft (80 m). Obviously, this was a short distance, but it was only the beginning.

On May 7, 1895, Popov gave a public lecture in which he made one of the firstdemonstrations of electromagnetic wave reception. The following January he published a paper on the subject and included a detailed diagram of his tuningcircuit. He also wrote of " the hope that my apparatus... may be used for the transmission of signals over a distance..." Lo and behold, in the autumn of1896 the first printed notice of Guglielmo Marconi's radiotelegraphy invention appeared. Marconi's 1897 application for a patent included a diagram of his apparatus, which nearly coincided exactly with Popov's January 1896 description. The Russian Physicochemical Society claimed, perhaps justifiably so, that Popov should be considered the inventor instead of Marconi. Though he is considered, along with Lodge and Marconi, to have independently devised the principles of radio, Marconi's later achievements eclipsed Popov's initial success.

In any case, Popov was still the first to use an antenna to send long distance signals. In 1898, he transmitted a ship-to-shore message nearly six miles (10 km). This was three years before Marconi would send his famous trans-Atlantic communication. Unfortunately, Popov became sidetracked at this point. Hewas able to get the Russian navy and army to install radio equipment, but hebegan to spend more of his time using his receiver to study the physics of thunderstorms by detecting lightning strikes. This gave Marconi the time he needed to establish himself.

Popov went on to become a professor at the St. Petersburg Institute of Electrical Engineering in 1901, eventually becoming its director in 1905. His health began to fail, and he died on January 13, 1906. His "hope" of long-distancecommunication has been realized far beyond his expectations.

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