A Gallery of Electromagnetic Personalities 8...

Michelson, Morley

Albert Abraham Michelson (1852-1931) was a German-born U.S. physicist who established the speed of light as a fundamental constant. He received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1878 Michelson began work on the passion of his life, the measurement of the speed of light. His attempt to measure the effect of the earth's velocity through the supposed ether laid the basis for the theory of relativity.

Edward Williams Morley (1838-1923) was an American chemist whose reputation as a skilled experimenter attracted the attentionof Michelson. In 1887 the pair performed what has come to be known as the Michelson-Morley experiment to measure the motion of the earth through the ether.

Heaviside, Lorentz, FitzGerald

Oliver Heaviside (1850-1925), described as "a short, red-headed Englishman of autocratic disposition," was a telegrapher, but deafness forced him to retire and devote himself to investigations of electricity. He became an eccentric recluse, befriended by FitzGerald and (by correspondence) by Hertz. In 1892 he introduced the operational calculus (Laplace transforms) to study transient currents in networks and theoretical aspects of problems in electrical transmission. In 1902, after wireless telegraphy proved effective over long distances, Heaviside theorized that a conducting layer of the atmosphere existed that allows radio waves to follow the Earth's curvature.

Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853-1928), a professor of physics at the University of Leiden, sought to explain the origin of light by the oscillations of charged particles inside atoms. Under this assumption, a strong magnetic field would effect the wavelength. The observation of this effect by his pupil, Zeeman, won a Nobel prize for 1902 for the pair. However, the Lorentz theory could not explain the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Influenced by the proposal of Fitzgerald, Lorentz arrived at the formulas known as the Lorentz transformations to describe the relation of mass, length and time for a moving body. These equations form the basis for Einstein's special theory of relativity.

George Francis FitzGerald (1851-1901), a professor at Trinity College, Dublin, was the first to suggest that an oscillating electric current would produce radio waves, laying the basis for wireless telegraphy. In 1892 FitzGerald suggested that the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment could be explained by the contraction of a body along its its direction of motion.


Albert Einstein (1879-1955), one of the great geniuses of physics, grew up in Munich where his father and his uncle had a small electrical plant and engineering works. Einstein's special theory of relativity, first printed in 1905 with the title "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" had its beginnings in an essay Einstein wrote at age sixteen. The special theory is often regarded as the capstone of classical electrodynamic theory.

Return to Taylor's Ohm Page