About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Oliver Heaviside

Instead of actually studying something useful (or marking papers-- there is a huge pile on my desk!), I spent the last two days reading Paul Nahin's Oliver Heaviside: The Life, Work and Times of an Electrical Genius. I've had the book on my virtual shelf, but kept postponing my reading in favor of fiction, as can be seen from my recent blog posts.

What really impressed me is the hard work he put into learning Maxwell's Theory of Electromagnetism, and that he was self-taught. Aside from never going to university, he was also handicapped by being part of the Victorian poor; to overcome the limitations of his class (and Victorian England was certainly terribly class-conscious) and earn the respect of the scientists of his time was a feat indeed. He was a self-taught mathematical physicist, and the mathematical physicist that he reminds me of is George Green.

I got interested in his biography after learning that he was one of the people who independently invented vector analysis (along with Josiah Williard Gibbs), and that he was one of the precursors of the modern theory of distributions. The Dirac delta function and the step function were used by Heaviside  long before these constructs were popularized by Paul Dirac.

I'm still not through with the reading, but what I've read so far has been interesting enough. I'll continue my reading tonight, after I do some paperwork.

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