Oliver Lodge was a British physicist and writer, best known for his contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy (radio). He perfected the “coherer”, a radio-wave detector and the heart of the early radiotelegraph receiver. He was the first person to transmit a radio signal (one year before Marconi did so), and received international recognition for his work. Oliver Lodge was a complex mix of scientist, humanitarian, academic and spiritualist.
Oliver Joseph Lodge was born on June 12, 1851, at ‘The Views’ Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. He was the eldest son from 12 children of Oliver Lodge (his father was also Oliver) and Grace nee Heath. His father was a supplier of pottery materials and the family was prolific.
His grandfather married 3 times and had 25 children! Oliver Lodge was educated at Newport Grammar School where he made his first acquaintance with science. Lodge entered his father’s business in 1865. However, Lodge became interested in science after hearing the public lectures of Irish physicist John Tyndall, a great popularizer of science who was perhaps the first person to accurately explain why the sky is blue.
Lodge could hardly contain his excitement. In his own words, he “got impregnated” with physics. Lodge began the study of physics and chemistry by attending afternoon classes at Wedgwood Institute. In 1872, after working for his father for 7 years, at the age of 22, he resumed a formal education and enrolled for a course at the South Kensington Chemical Laboratory.
Lodge studied physics at the Royal College of Science (now part of Imperial College) and at University College, both in London. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in 1875, and he was awarded a DSc in 1877. He was very interested in Maxwells work and during a European tour met Hertz and formed a lasting friendship.
Lodge wrote his first book, “Elementary Mechanics”, at 26. Many years later, Lodge wrote in his autobiography: “At an early age I decided that my main business was with the imponderables, the things that work secretly and have to be apprehended mentally.”
On August 22 1877 he married Mary Marshall, of Brampton House, Newcastle – under – Lyme and they had six sons and six daughters. The pictures show Sir Oliver and Lady Lodge in later years (left picture in March 1928).
Lodge became assistant professor of applied mathematics at University College, London, in 1879 and was appointed to the chair of physics at University College, Liverpool, in 1881. Oliver Lodge made many innovations in early radio technology, inventing a better radio detector, introducing the use of tuned circuits, and inventing the loud speaker. During his tenure in Liverpool, he conducted experiments in the propagation and reception of electromagnetic waves.
Lodge’s principal scientific contributions were concerned with the transmission of electromagnetic waves, which led to developments in radio broadcasting. His experiments in the field of electricity started in the late 1870s. In 1887-88 he discovered that electromagnetic waves could be produced by electrical means and transmitted along conducting wires. These results were somewhat overshadowed by the work of Heinrich Hertz who in 1888 succeeded in producing electromagnetic waves, transmitted them through air, and demonstrated their similarities with light waves.
Oliver Lodge (sitting) doing experiment with an assistant in a lab
In 1894 Lodge made his mark, however, by greatly improving the means of detecting these “Hertzian” waves (now known as radio waves) by developing the “coherer”.
This was an electrical device whose function was based on a discovery made in 1890 by a French physicist, Ã‰douard Branly: that electrical discharges in certain metallic powders, caused by radio waves, resulted in a drop in electrical resistance. Ã‰douard Branly called this device a “radio-conductor”, but it was Lodge who coined the name “coherer” based upon his hypothesis of filings cohering under the action of the incident electromagnetic waves. He used a coherer to detect the presence of radio waves and demonstrated that these waves could be used for signalling. Of the coherer, Lodge said it was “the most astonishingly sensitive detector of Hertz waves.”
Lodge’s coherer based on the Branly’s device
The coherer, which is the result of the work of many men – Hughes, Lodge, Branly and Popov among others – consists essentially of a small quantity of metal filings lying loosely between metallic electrodes. Lodge’s coherer, which may be used either with a telephone or with a syphon recorder, is constructed as follows: a small metallic cup A (see picture above, right) contains a globule of mercury on which is placed a small drop of oil, which forms an infinitely thin insulating film over it; above the globule of mercury is a small iron disc with a sharp edge and which is slowly rotated.
By means of an adjusting screw the lower edge of the disc is made to touch the oil-covered mercury, but the pressure is not so great as to puncture the film of oil. In series with the coherer is joined a dry cell and telephone receiver, or syphon recorder, as the case may be, and the passage of electrical oscillations, by breaking down the insulating film of oil, allows the cell to operate the receiving instrument. This form of coherer is self-resorting and needs no tapping arrangement.
Oliver Lodge in 1929 at 78 years of age in his house in Salisbury with a loudspeaker developed by him in 1897
To this basic design Lodge added a “trembler,” a device that shook the filings loose between waves. Connected to a receiving circuit, this improved coherer detected Morse code signals transmitted by radio wave and enabled them to be transcribed on paper by an inker. Lodge’s device, first demonstrated before the Royal Institute in 1894, quickly became the standard detector in early wireless telegraph receivers.
It was outmoded the following decade by magnetic, electrolytic, and crystal detectors. On February 1, 1898, Lodge applied for a patent which was allowed on August 16, 1898, as No. 609,154. It disclosed an adjustable induction coil in the open or antenna circuit of a wireless transmitter or receiver, or in both, to make it possible to put the transmitter and receiver in tune with each other. Oliver Lodge also filed for British patent No. 9712 on April 27, 1898, for an improved loudspeaker with nonmagnetic spacers to keep the air gap between the inner and outer poles of a moving coil transducer.
Around 1897-1900, Lodge attempted to detect radio waves from the Sun. His experimental setup was sensitive to centimer wave radiation, which can penetrate the ionosphere. In hindsight, his apparatus was probably not sensitive enough to have detected the Sun. In any case, there were too many sources of radio interference in Liverpool for the experiment to succeed.
Sir Oliver Lodge in his laboratory, 1892
Lodge is also remembered for his work on the ether, which had been postulated as the wave-bearing medium filling all space. In 1893 he devised an experiment that helped to discredit the theory. Other scientific work included investigations on lightning, the source of the electromotive force in the voltaic cell, electrolysis, and the application of electricity to the dispersal of fog and smoke. He also made a major contribution to motoring when he invented electric spark ignition for the internal combustion engine. Later, two of his sons developed his ideas and founded the Lodge Plug Company.
In 1900 he moved back to the Midlands and became the first principal of the new Birmingham University, remaining there until his retirement in 1919, overseeing the start of the move from Edmund Street in the city centre to the present Edgbaston campus. He ensured that both the teaching of Physics and the pursuit of fundamental research were maintained at the highest level, basic principles which have been maintained to the present day. From 1900 Lodge increasingly devoted himself to administrative work.
He was also interested in the history of science and wrote several scientific memoirs. He played a part in establishing the National Physical Laboratory.
Sir Oliver Lodge, 1912
Oliver Lodge is pictured broadcasting to the British Public using wireless telephony using the 2LO transmitter at Marconi House on The Strand. He is pictured with his wife Lady Lodge.
Lodge had the power of crystallizing into clear statement an entire collection of thoughts or arguments. Once during a discussion about the forces that bind atom to atom he picked up a stick that lay on the lecture table, and he seemed merely to be toying with it, when suddenly he said, “The whole problem of physics lies in this: why, when I pick up one end of the stick, does not the other end come up too? The forces that hold the stick in one are those also which bind the universe together”
“I think of him,” said Sir William Bragg, “as a really magnificent figure, tall and impressive, a marvelous teacher, an enterprising thinker and a great worker, who had a remarkable influence on his contemporaries and students. He was a very distinguished man of science”.
Oliver Joseph Lodge, 25 January 1920
In recognition of his scientific contributions, Lodge received the Rumford Medal of the Royal Society in 1898 and was knighted by King Edward VII in 1902. As one of the pioneers in wireless telegraphy, he was presented with the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1919.
Most controversially, however, Lodge was a long-time researcher into psychic phenomena and a dedicated believer in Spiritualism – an understandable pursuit, given his huge contribution to scientific understanding of the unseen world. After 1900 he became prominent in psychical research, believing strongly in the possibility of communicating with the dead. After he lost his son Raymond during WW1 he was convinced to have established contact with him through a medium.
Lodge was also a President of the Society for Psychical Research. He expressed a belief in telepathy and the opinion that the easiest way to communicate with the planet Mars would be by means of gigantic geometrical figures drawn on the Sahara Desert. For many years, Lodge had been investigating psychic phenomena with his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This won him a different kind of following and inevitably some criticism from academic quarters.
But Lodge, a practising Christian, never wavered from what he believed to be the truth. He wrote at the time: “I am as convinced of continued existence on the other side of death as I am of existence here.” Seven years before his death, Oliver Lodge summed up his feelings on the after-life in his last book, My Philosophy: “The universe seems to me to be a great reservoir of life and mind.
The unseen universe is a great reality. This is the region to which we really belong and to which we shall one day return.” Before his own death in 1940, aged 89, Lodge deposited a sealed message with the Society for Psychical Research, hoping to send the message from â€˜â€˜the other side” through a medium. But independent observers were not convinced by attempts to contact his spirit.
Lodge published several papers on the flow of electricity, which attracted considerable attention in the scientific world. He also wrote several books (some of them about Spiritualism): “Pioneers of Science” (1893), “The Ether of Space” (1909), “Raymond” (1916), “Atoms and Rays” (1923); “Making of Man” (1924), “Relativity” (1925), “The Reality of a Spiritual World” (1930) and “My Philosophy” (1933). In his writings he made attempts to reconcile what seemed to him the divergence between science and religion. Sir Oliver Lodge was interested in technical inventions till the very last days of his life.
The account of his sonâ€™s death in the first World War in 1915. Lodge was already known for his work in psychical research and belief in survival. Part One of the book documents the life of Raymond and the events leading up to his death. Part Two documents the successful attempts of the family to make contact with the discarnate Raymond through mediumship. Part Three concerns Lodgeâ€™s beliefs about and philosophy of the After-life.
A new and abbreviated edition of “Raymond or Life After Death”. A much revised and improved edition of the original with additional material and explanations of some originally contentious points was published in 1922. Overall much of the earlier edition was shortened and simplified without any loss of evidential value.
A general account of his life, family and background which only contains a relatively short account of his work in psychical research. One chapter is given over to “The Ether Experiments” which he states to be “…the most important series of experiments in my life”.
In the last chapter, his “Apologia pro vita mea”, he states: “My testimony, and that of others, to the reality of a spiritual world is based upon direct experience of fact, and not upon theory. Test the facts whatever way you choose, they can only be accounted for by the interaction of intelligences other than our own. Intelligences there appear to be of every grade, some of them possessing powers unknown to us.”.
This is a fascinating book. In it Lodge seeks to condense a lifetimeâ€™s work at the forefront of both physical science and psychical research and to produce a personal philosophy which integrates the materialistic outlook of modern science with spirituality and the traditional religious outlook of humanity. The key factor in his philosophical approach is the ether; as he states: “The Ether of Space has been my life study, and I have constantly urged its claims to attention.”
He believed that the ether provides the link between the material universe and the spiritual world which is demonstrated – however unclearly – by psychical research. The importance of the ether in his lifeâ€™s work is encapsulated in the statement that: “… when in my old age I came to write this book, I found that the Ether pervaded all my ideas, both of this world and the next. … and now I find it has grown into a comprehensive statement of my philosophy.” Unfortunately, at the time of writing he had arrived at a: “… day when the universe by some physicists seems resolved into mathematics, and the idea of an ether is by them considered superfluous, if not contemptible.”
Sir Oliver Lodge died on 22 August, 1940, at the age of 89, at Normanton House near Salisbury, England. His grave is close to the South East wall of St. Michaelâ€™s Church, Wilsford (Lake), Wiltshire.