Bulletin of the American Physical Society
APS March Meeting 2015
Volume 60, Number 1
Monday–Friday, March 2–6, 2015; San Antonio, Texas
Session L24: Invited Session: Pais Prize Session: Physics at the Intersection of History, Technology and Society
8:00 AM–11:00 AM, Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Sponsoring Units: FHP FPS
Chair: Catherine Westfall, Michigan State University
Abstract ID: BAPS.2015.MAR.L24.4
Abstract: L24.00004 : To Rule the Waves: Cable Telegraphy and the Making of ``Maxwell's Equations''
9:48 AM–10:24 AM
(University of Texas)
How and why did Maxwell's theory of the electromagnetic field come to be cast into the now familiar form of four vector equations? In particular, how and why was this done not by James Clerk Maxwell himself, but by Oliver Heaviside in a series of articles published in a London electrical trade journal in 1885, several years after Maxwell's death? The answer, I will argue, lies in the demands and opportunities presented by the global network of submarine telegraph cables, one of the characteristic technologies of the Victorian British Empire. Heaviside, himself a former telegrapher, was steeped in the problems confronting cable telegraphy, particularly the distortion or ``retardation'' that signals suffered in passing along a cable. It was Heaviside's search for an effective tool with which to tackle such problems that led him to take up Maxwell's theory and then to recast it into the four ``Maxwell's equations.''
To cite this abstract, use the following reference: http://meetings.aps.org/link/BAPS.2015.MAR.L24.4
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