Isn't about time that the word "Hall of Fame" is applied to people that actually contributed something to society, rather than overpaid people that do nothing but sing or play ball? Here's an introduction to some of the innovators upon whose broad shoulders you stand when you work in the microwave industry: famous engineers, mathematicians and scientists that provided the foundations for the microwave industry.
On this page, you'll find the classics--most of these guys you should know for their contributions to electrical engineering as a whole. History-makers around WWII have their own page, and modern-day geniuses now have a page to call their own. Check them all out!
Go on to the second page of the Microwave Hall of Fame.
Go on to the third page of the Microwave Hall of Fame.
Go to our main microwave history page.
Christiaan Huygens was a Dutch scientist who lived from 1629-1695. Among many other scientific contributions (notably in astronomy), Huygens was the first to postulate the wave theory of light, in 1678. He was able to explain linear and spherical wave propagation, and derived the laws of reflection and refraction. Among those that refuted this theory was one Isaac Newton. It took a few centuries for scientist to eventually agree that Huygens was right (at least partially, due to the wave particle duality that is currently accepted).
Huygens was the first person in all time to measure how long a day is on a celestial body other than Earth, using a telescope that was powerful enough to see permanent features on Mars. OK, we are discounting that even cave people probably could noticed that the "day" on the moon is roughly equal to an Earth month as we forever see just one side of it.
Alessandro Volta was born in Italy 1745. Volta was the first one to ask and answer the question, "if I stack a bunch of dissimilar metals such as zinc and silver in salt water, can I make some cool sparks if I connect it with this newfangled invention called "wire"?" This represented the development of the voltaic pile, the first wet-cell battery, which was the power source for all early experimentation in electricity. The emperor of Austria made Volta director of the philosophical faculty at the University of Padua in 1815 for this fine work. His name is presently used more than any other person in this Hall of Fame, in our estimation, because the units of electromotive force (Volts) are named in his honor. Volta died in 1827. Nominated by Arne Lüker.
Michael Faraday, born in 1791, is credited as the discoverer of magneto-electric induction, the law of electrochemical decomposition, the magnetization of light, and diamagnetism, among many other contributions to chemistry and physics. He did his research at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London (thanks for the correction, Richard!) for a stipend of 300 quid per year from the British government. Faraday's name is immortalized in the Farad, the unit of capacitance.
"the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically… by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound."
Three weeks later Alexander Graham Bell's famous sentence, "Watson, I want to see you", was spoken into the first telephone. The same month, Custer's army became human pincushions.
Bell was born a Scot in 1847 and came to the "New World" by way of Canada, later settling in Boston. His portfolio of inventions is second to none, but his life's work was mainly centered on helping the deaf. The term bel (and decibel) was named by Bell Labs scientists to honor him. Bell thought the phone was too great a distraction, and refused to permit one in his study! Bell died in 1922.
By the 1880s, electrification of the world had begun, first for lighting, and just as important, for motors. In the United States, a huge rift developed between supporters of direct current systems (being deployed by Edison), and supporters of alternating current (to be deployed by Westinghouse). Eventually, Nikola Tesla proved to the world that alternating current and his polyphase system of generation, distribution and power delivery using the induction motor were the answer to long distance, reliable electrical distribution. New York City was wired with direct current for a time, and unreliable DC trolleys and their sparking commutators gave the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers baseball team (today's L. A. Dodgers) their name. During this time period, "Wizard of Menlo Park" Thomas Edison performed despicable acts on neighborhood pets to show the dangers of alternating current, and eventually arranged for the first prisoner execution on August 6, 1890, using (of course) alternating current. Convicted killer William Kemmler took eight minutes to die, even though the procedure had been tested on a horse the day before. To see the botched execution from the movie Green Mile, click here (fair warning, this is a truly ugly event). The late 1800s/early 1900s were certainly the most interesting of modern times for technology. You can read about this time period in books such as Tesla, Man out of Time, by Margaret Cheney.
Charles Proteus Steinmetz in his cabin near Schenectady. Looks like the museum incorrectly painted the replica table white!
Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865 - 1923) was a German-born mathematician measuring just four feet tall, but was giant of a technologist. For a time, he was the brains of the Edison Electric company. He realized the major benefit of alternating current over his boss's narrow-minded, DC approach, which is the ability to efficiently transform up and down in voltage so that power transmission could be performed at very high voltage at reduced loss. Edison was indeed a victim of his "not invented here" attitude. Through a merger orchestrated by railroad robber-baron J. P. Morgan between Edison Electric and Thomson Houston Electric Company of Lynn Massachusetts, Edison's name was removed from the combined company, General Electric. Although Tesla must be credited with inventing the induction motor which changed the world (due to its inherent, year-after-year reliability), Steinmetz was the first to provide a mathematical interpretation of how an electric motor worked, using the phasor concept. His work on hysteresis allowed motor designers to optimize motor efficiency without continuous tinkering with prototypes.
Steinmetz was a socialist, which is what brought him to the United States (he had to flee Germany after writing political essays). He was also an environmentalist, an anti-racist, a protagonist of electric cars to reduce pollution, and a big fan of cigars. He preferred to live in a camp near General Electric's Schenectady plant, using a canoe as his fair-weather office. He had 200 US patents.
Edison might be spinning in his grave these days, as high-voltage DC transmission line haves made a comeback of sorts. Once the problem of up/down converting is solved (which is an expensive proposition), DC has two advantages over AC: lower peak voltage for the same power (less opportunities to arc), and the skin depth at DC is infinite. Every gram of copper in a DC transmission line is used to move power equally, this is not true for AC. Therefor DC has a loss advantage which can be appreciable for large diameter lines. Here's some info on HVDC power transmission lines.
In 1884, British physicist John Henry Poynting (1852-1914) published his description of the Poynting Theorem, which describes the vector that bears his name. The Poynting vector determines the direction and magnitude of electromagnetic radiation, and gave rise to what is known as the Right Hand Rule to determine power flow. Today, metamaterials routinely demonstrate lefthandedness, yet still obey Poynting's Theorem, even though he probably could not have envisioned this development. Among his other accomplishments, Poynting wrote a physics text book that was in print for 50 years!
Louis Karl Heinrich Friedrich Paschen (1865- 1947), was a noted German physicist. Among other accomplishments Friedrich Paschen established what is known as Paschen's Law, an empirical relationship that predicts electrical breakdown (sparking) based on gap, pressure and gas properties. This work was done in his doctoral thesis in 1888, at the very beginning of a long career as one of the great physics experimentalists (like Michelson). His many other accomplishments are in the fields of spectography and thermodynamics.
Several years after Maxwell's famous treatise, German Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894) conducted experiments that proved Maxwell's theories were correct. Hertz began testing these theories by using a high-voltage spark discharge (a source rich in high-frequency harmonics) to excite a half-wave dipole antenna. A receive antenna consisted of an adjustable loop of wire with another spark gap. When both transmit and receive antennas were adjusted for the same resonant frequency, Hertz was able to demonstrate propagation of electromagnetic waves. And thanks to Philip, we now have Mr. Hertz's correct photo!
In another experiment, Hertz used a coax line to show that electromagnetic waves propagated with a finite velocity, and he discovered basic transmission line effects such as the existence of nodes in a standing wave pattern a quarter wavelength from an open circuit and a half wavelength from a short circuit. He then went on to develop cylindrical parabolic reflectors for directional antennas, as well as a number of other radio frequency (RF) and microwave devices and techniques.
Others soon built on Hertz's work. In 1894, 20 year old Guglielmo Marconi began experiments in Italy sending a wireless signal using Morse code, at first for short distances, and ultimately thousands of miles. Marconi was the son of a wealthy Italian businessman and an Irish mother who was part of the Jameson family whose distilled products were (and are) well known. He had limited education and no formal training as engineer or scientist, just an idea that wireless communications would one day render the telegraph obsolete, and the wherewithal and family support to pursue his dream. Marconi brought together the "perfect storm" of engineering curiosity (notice we didn't say "scientific"), confidence, financing and ego that comes along once in a lifetime to rattle the establishment out of bed and change the world. His only equal today would be be Bill Gates.
Marconi faced resistance, resentment and reprisals from many well-known scientists of the era, and almost lost his personal fortune. His high-tech startup of the '90s, The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company (a U.K. company) was soon renamed Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company. This business began by installing company-owned and operated wireless communications onto ships to communicate with huge installations on key coastlines, while the founder pursued ground communications across the Atlantic. It is ironic that Marconi's methods of trial and error for tuning his equipment would have taken much longer if not for access to transatlantic cables owned by the telegraph companies his technology would compete with. Marconi received the Nobel physics prize of 1909 for his work, shared with German Ferdinand Braun. By 1911, "Marconigrams" had helped capture a famous murderer and in 1912 enabled the rescue of Titanic survivors. Marconi was the first experimenter to notice that transmission during daylight hours was more prone to noise than at night, which was later explained by Heaviside as due to the "Marconisphere" (now known as the ionosphere). Approximately 350 civilian Marconi wireless operators were killed at sea during the first World War, as the wireless shed was a crucial target for maritime marauders. Although Marconi was the singular force behind long distance wireless communications, he admitted he didn't really know how it all worked. Some years later the scientific community discovered that Marconi's idea that longer wavelengths would travel farther around the globe was incorrect, and Marconi's amazing 300,000 watt steam-powered spark gap transmitters, building-sized capacitor banks and multi-mile antenna elements were unnecessary at higher frequencies (short waves). Marconi died in 1937, to learn more about his life and that of murderer Harvey Crippen, go to our book page and order Thunderstruck. Marconi's company has long since has been chopped up and digested into BAE and Ericsson among others.
A lot was happening in radio around the previous turn of the century. John Ambrose Fleming, who had worked with Maxwell, Marconi, and Thomas Edison, invented an "thermionic valve", better known today as a diode tube (Brits still refer to tubes as valves.) Marconi's receiver used something called a coherer in order to pick off the Morse code signal from RF; later radios used crystal detectors (cat's whiskers) to detect the audio. Fleming's valve was patented, and soon Lee de Forest made a major discovery as he tried to find a way around Fleming's patent (more about that later). Fleming's valve made use of a discovery by Edison when he was trying to figure out why his light bulb was burning out. The Edison Effect is what happens when conduction occurs across a vacuum when one electrode is heated. Edison couldn't see any commercial applications of this effect and essentially discarded it. See our page on detectors for a little more history that tries to put this all in perspective. Fleming also came up with an equation that expressed the impedance characteristics of high frequency transmission lines in terms of measurable effects of electromagnetic waves, and coined the term "power factor".
As the son of a minister, Fleming got his shorts in a knot about Darwin's theory of evolution.
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden, born in Canada in 1866, was a huge pioneer of wireless. He was the first inventor to demonstrate transmission of voice in December 1900 (Marconi thought that Morse Code was good enough for all communication needs), and his first transmission involved a weather report! He was the first to think in terms of continuous wave (CW) transmissions instead of the pulsed spark-gap transmitters of the day. He built some clever high speed alternators to provide up to 200 kHz, 250 kW signals for transmission, before anyone had developed a useful electronic oscillator. He also developed the theory of heterodyne detection and coined that word (demonstrating and patenting the first mixer), but didn't have a practical, stable source to reap its full benefits in a radio receiver. Did we mention that he invented 500 other things too? A rare combination of genius and entrepreneur, thanks to Brian, he is now in the Microwave Hall of Fame!
Brian wishes to point out that Fessenden, Tesla, Charles Steinmetz and Ernst Alexanderson all worked for Edison. Is the top genius the one who can make business out of the genius of others? How many similar genius’s worked for Bill Gates and helped him make his billions and whom we will only hear about 100 years from now if ever?
Alfred Abraham Michelson (1852-1931) was born in Prussia to Jewish parents and emigrated to the US when he was two years old. Pronounced "Michealson", he first measured the speed of light in 1878 resulting in an estimate of 300,140±480 km/s (not much different from other experimenters at the time). This privately funded experiment used mirrors separated by just 152 meters, and was the start of a life-long passion.
Michelson was the first US scientist to win the Nobel prize for Physics, in 1907 "for his optical precision instruments and the spectroscopic and metrological investigations carried out with their aid". Later he continued to improve measurement accuracy of the velocity of light, and his most accurate experiments occurred after he was 70 years old. By 1926 he had data to show 299,796±4 km/s, from a measurement between Mt. Wilson and Mt. San Antonio in California in today's Angeles National Forest. To get this accuracy, distance needs to be accurate to centimeters across the 35 km separation. In 1929 he set about to measure speed of light in vacuum in a one mile pipe. He died in the middle of the experiment, which turned out to be corrupted ±10 km/s by the slipping San Andreas fault, alluvial soil and sea tides.
Without an accurate value for "c", radar would be in serious trouble. Learn more about speed of light measurement here. If you have the opportunity to visit the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, you might visit "Mich" labs, named after Michelson, which has a great exhibit of Michelson artifacts in the lobby. Be sure to pronounce it "Mike Lab"!
The Michelson-Morley experiment is regarded as the greatest failed experiment of all time. Using the amazing interferometer they developed together (think pool of mercury floating a one-foot thick slab of granite) in 1887 at what is now Case Western Reserve University, M&M set out to measure how the "aether wind" affects the speed of light. This hypothesis proved wrong, aether wind was not detected, and the second scientific revolution had begun. Read Michelson and Morley's 1887 American Journal of Science paper here!
Michelson was the first person to measure the diameter of a star (Betelgeuse) in 1927.
Karl Ferdinand Braun (1850-1918) worked on wireless telegraphy. His inventions include the first semiconductor, the point-contact diode used in "crystal" radios; before that receivers had to use something called a "coherer" to convert RF to baseband. He also invented the first cathode-ray tube to provide a visual display, the precursor to radar screens, oscilloscopes and video screens alike. Today the Ferdinand-Braun-Institut für Höchstfrequenztechnik in Berlin carries out some great work in microwave technology, especially in flip-chip coplanar-waveguide MMICs. Braun shared the 1909 Nobel prize for physics with Marconi.
Textronix named a street "Karl Braun Drive" at their Beaverton facility. They also named streets after Schottky, Terman, Shannon, Zworykin and more electronics' pioneers. Check it out!
Lee de Forest
 John Stone Stone, Method of determining the direction of space telegraph signals, US Patent 716,134, December 16, 1902.
 John Stone Stone, Apparatus for determining the direction of space telegraph signals, US Patent 716,135, December 16, 1902.
 John Stone Stone, Apparatus for determining the direction of space telegraph signals, US Patent 899,272, September 22, 1908.
 John Stone Stone, Apparatus for determining the direction of space telegraph signals, US Patent 961,265, June 14, 1910.
William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg
In 1915 a father and son team won the Nobel prize for Physics. William Henry Bragg (1862-1942) and William Lawrence Bragg (1890 to 1971) developed the science of crystallography using X-ray diffraction. William Lawrence Bragg remains the youngest Nobel laureate at 25 years of age. How is your career going? Here at Microwaves101, we are happy to celebrate the 101st anniversary of crystallography in 2013!
In microwave engineering, semiconductors are analyzed using crystallography. We have also adopted a dual meaning: Bragg frequency refers to the frequency where a periodic structure suffers from additive interference and hence ceases to function. Examples of Bragg frequency can be found in studies of slow wave lines and artificial transmission lines.
Although Marconi was awarded the Nobel prize in 1909 for his "wireless telegraphy" work , the U.S. Supreme Court revoked Marconi's patents since Serbian-American genius Nikola Tesla had taken out a patent for radio communications as early as 1897. Doesn't Tesla look smug in this picture? Tesla's life has taken on legendary status, having obtained more than 700 U.S. patents. Perhaps because he was jerked around by Thomas Edison to the tune of $50,000 early in his career, we can thank Tesla for perfecting alternating-current power distribution and fluorescent lights. Some of his other inventions include a unique steam turbine, liquefaction of nitrogen, and the awesome Tesla coils from which he coaxed 10,000,000 volts to light up the Colorado sky. No other inventor has has more articles written about him. Nikola Tesla is quite possibly the greatest engineer that ever lived; you can quote the Unknown Editor on that. You can find over 100 articles with "Tesla" in the title on the IEEE web site. Here's a second web site with info on Tesla that we found useful.
Watch David Bowie play Tesla in the movie The Prestige!
By 1894, Sir Oliver George was conducting experiments noting that directional radiation was obtained when he surrounded a spark oscillator with a metal tube. In 1897, Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt) proved mathematically that waves could be propagated inside a hollow metal tube. Rayleigh also noted the infinite set of modes of the TE or TM type which were possible, and the existence of a cutoff frequency. Waveguide was essentially forgotten, however, until it was rediscovered independently in 1936 by George C. Southworth at AT&T (Bell Telephone Labs) and W.L. Barrow at MIT.
Up until this point, focus had been on sending and receiving communication signals. As the new century progressed, scientists worked with longer and longer wavelengths to achieve greater and greater distances.
In India, however, J.C. Bose was working with shorter and shorter waves. In 1895 Bose gave his first public demonstration of electromagnetic waves, using them to ring a bell remotely and to explode some gunpowder. The wavelengths he used ranged from 2.5 cm to 5 mm. Think about that. He was playing at 60 GHz over one hundred years ago! Bose's investigations included measurement of refractive index of a variety of substances. He also made dielectric lenses, oscillators, receivers, and his own "polarization device."
A scientist from Kcynia Poland, Jan Czochralski, was many years ahead of his time. In 1916 he developed a method for growing single crystals, which was basically forgotten until after World War II. Today the semiconductor industry depends on the Czochralski method for manufacturing billions of dollars worth of semiconductor materials. He was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer but was later acquitted and died in Poland in 1953. What a wacky world, Bill Gates is the richest man on earth and most people don't even know how to pronounce "Czochralski!"
Walter Schottky's name is embedded in solid-state physics (Schottky effect, Schottky barrier, Schottky contact, Schottky diode). Born in 1878 in Germany, he was a contemporary of Einstein and Max Planck. His work included superheterodyne receivers, noise theory, and radio tube work such as invention of the tetrode, but his most important contribution to microwaves is no doubt his investigation of metal-semiconductor rectifying junctions (published in 1938), which is the basis for the gate contact of all MESFETs. He died in 1976, one year ahead of Elvis.
Harry Nyquist was born in Sweden in 1889, and emigrated to the U.S. when he was 18 years old. First schooled at University of North Dakota (uff-da!) and later earning a Ph.D. from Yale, he settled in to a long career at ATT and later Bell Labs. Nyquist's 1928 paper Certain topics in Telegraph Transmission Theory nails down a fundamental law of telecommunications: the highest frequency that can be accurately sampled is one half the sampling frequency (the Nyquist Frequency). His other most notable contribution to electronics is the Nyquist Stability Theorem (1932), which determines when a feedback amplifier will and won't be stable. He also contributed to noise theory, the fax machine, and television, earning 138 patents and several major awards (as if the Microwaves101 Hall of Fame wasn't enough!) Nyquist died in 1976. Thanks to Zach at LockMart!
While still in high school, Edwin Howard Armstrong erected a 125 foot radio mast at his parents' house in Yonkers, New York, to receive the weak radio signals of the day. While still in college in 1912, he invented a feedback circuit based on Lee de Forest's three-terminal audion tube that provided the first usable electrical amplifier, and submitted a patent for the regenerative receiver in 1913. Think about this: before Armstrong, the only "amplifiers" that existed were the mechanical relays used to boost voltage on long telegraph lines! Armstrong won the triple crown of electrical engineering, soon inventing the superheterodyne receiver, then inventing frequency-modulation (FM) broadcasting. He cashed in on his patents, in spite of a corporate war between AT&T and RCA over who really invented the feedback amplifier, Armstrong or de Forest, but he spent more time in court than Perry Mason. On January 31, 1954 he committed suicide by leaping from a building; an ironic end to a brilliant man who often scared his co-workers by fearlessly scaling antenna installations for fun. Dirtbag lawyers and corporate greed aside, the IRE (predecessor of IEEE) gave credit to Armstrong for the key inventions of radio. Nominated to the Hall of Fame by OAH of Towaco NJ! Read Empire of the Air by Tom Lewis for more info on the history of radio.
As radio applications grew more sophisticated (and popular), stations started broadcasting regular commercial programs. By 1920, the US Department of Commerce stepped in and began issuing radio licenses, and in 1921 formally declared a special service category (and corresponding transmission wavelength) for commercial stations.
Want more? Check out the next room in the Microwave Hall of Fame!