Oliver Heaviside

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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.



Early years

Heaviside was born at 55 Kings Street[1] (now Plender Street) in London's Camden Town. He was short and red-headed, and suffered from scarlet fever when young, which left him with a hearing impairment. He was a good student (e.g. placed fifth out of five hundred students in 1865). Heaviside's uncle Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802–1875) was the original co-inventor of the telegraph in the mid 1830s, and was an internationally celebrated expert in telegraphy and electromagnetism. Wheatstone was married to Heaviside's mother's sister in London and took a strong interest in his nephew's education.[2]

Heaviside left school at age 16 to study at home in the subjects of telegraphy and electromagnetism. He continued fulltime study at home until age 18. Then – in the only paid employment he ever had[2] – he took a job as a telegraph operator with the Great Northern Telegraph Company working first in Denmark and then in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and was soon made a chief operator.[3] Heaviside continued to study while working, and at age 21 and 22 he published some research related to electric circuits and telegraphy. In 1874 at age 24 he quit his job and returned to studying fulltime on his own at his parents' home in London. He remained single throughout his life.

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