Thursday, April 8, 2010

Oliver Heaviside

Oliver Heaviside (18 May 1850 – 3 February 1925) was a self-taught English electrical engineer, mathematician, and physicist who adapted complex numbers to the study of electrical circuits, invented mathematical techniques to the solution of differential equations (later found to be equivalent to Laplace transforms), reformulated Maxwell's field equations in terms of electric and magnetic forces and energy flux, and independently co-formulated vector analysis. Although at odds with the scientific establishment for most of his life, Heaviside changed the face of mathematics and science for years to come.


Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Hi Steven,

I guess he is the one who invented the step-like function of the same name, i.e., the Heaviside distribution, the slope of which is so steep that I always thought it has a "heavy side" in its shape (Steven, don't laugh too much at my pun please. Carefully breathe long after it)

Steven Colyer said...

You're wonderfully terrible, Jérôme with such a brow-crunching pun, but thanks for the smile it gave me.

Heaviside of typical of the many great Mathematical Physicists who are gone and unfortunately forgotten, but in my opinion should not be. William Kingdon Clifford is another example, and Sadi Carnot whom I have not singled out yet, but will one of these days.

Jérôme CHAUVET said...

Carnot has surely been forgotten, but Clifford not. He is best known for algebras bearing his name, i.e. the Clifford algebras. Alain Connes often refers to them in its works (he refers to a lot of things, but all are meaningful), and there is at least one good journal edited by Springer having it in its name.

Carnot is totally unknown to me.

Steven Colyer said...

Carnot should be totally known to you. Allow me to educate if you will.

Sadi Carnot, a Frenchman of Paris and father of The Heat Cycle, whose father was Napoleon's War Minister, is the first of the 3 most important people in the 1800's in the field of Thermodynamics, a topic very much in the news today thanks to Verlinde and Carroll. Clausius and Boltzman get more press, but Carnot was first.

The English have the same problem.

Paul Dirac was among their greatest, but few Englishmen have any idea who he was.

So it's not just you.