IN A WORLD UNLOOSED by wireless technology, it’s only fitting that we’re still tethered, somehow, to the history sparked by Heinrich Rudolf Hertz.
It was Hertz who proved the physical existence of electromagnetic waves — experimentation that signaled the way toward developing wireless telegraph and radio. And today, Google celebrates the 155th anniversary of the German physicist’s birth with an elegant “Doodle” on its search homepage.
The bright, undulating Doodle — an animated GIF designed by color and wave variation to subtly reflect the letters of the “Google” logo — was created by Sophia Foster-Dimino, a Bay Area-based illustrator and cartoonist who joined the Google Doodle team in 2010.
“For this Doodle, we chose to create a simple and elegant homage for Heinrich Hertz, whose research into electromagnetic waves contributed to the invention of the radio, television and radar,” Foster-Dimino, who studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, tells Comic Riffs. “So extensive were his experiments that there’s a unit of frequency, the hertz, named for him — hence our wavy Doodle!”
[DOODLE ARTIST INTERVIEW: Valentine’s Day animator Michael “Lippy” Lipman]
“Most Doodles have at least three concepts that we experiment with before deciding on the right direction,” continues Foster-Dimino, who previously worked on the Pierre de Fermat Doodle. “For this one, as with most math and science Doodles, we consulted an internal mailing list of [Google’s] science enthusiasts.”
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Hertz’s name is perhaps most widely recognized now for that very unit of frequency; the hertz (Hz) — or one cycle per second — officially became part of the metric system in 1933, about four decades after the physicist’s death.
Among his numerous contributions, Hertz was the first person to send and receive radio waves, and he proved that light waves are electromagnetic radiation. (The math of James Clerk Maxwell earlier not only predicted the radio waves, but also helped illuminate the way regarding electromagnetic waves.)
Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was born Feb. 22, 1857, in Hamburg. He planned to train to be an engineer, but then was drawn to the physical sciences, studying under prominent physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.
Hertz was a physics professor at Karlsruhe Polytechnic by 1885, and during the next four years, his labwork included measuring the velocity and wavelength, the reflection and refraction of electromagnetic waves.
During this time, Hertz — who also discovered the photoelectric effect — created the first designed transmitter, and a receiver. But after his whirring, brass-knobbed spark oscillator successfully demonstrated the electromagnetic waves, the humble Hertz — according to lore — saw little import to having proved that "Maestro Maxwell" was right, saying: "It's of no use whatsoever." (Fortunately, such subsequent scientists as "father of long-distance radio transmission" Guglielmo Marconi saw the worth of Hertz's work and gave him due credit.)
Hertz died in Bonn in 1894, just 36 years old. He was survived by a wife and two daughters; in 1925, his nephew Gustav Hertz won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
According to Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, one friend eulogized Heinrich Rudolf Hertz with these words:
“He was a noble man, who had the singular good fortune to find many admirers, but none to hate or envy him; those who came into personal contact with him were struck by his modesty and charmed by his amiability. He was a true friend to his friends, a respected teacher to his students, who had begun to gather around him in large numbers, some of them coming from great distances; and to his family a loving husband and father.”
What more could be said well of a man, a scientist and a towering beacon of discovery?
Happy birthday, Herr Hertz.
Comic Riffs’ TOP TEN ‘GOOGLE DOODLE’ ANIMATIONS EVER (*before today):
1. PAC-MAN: VIDEO-GAME GOOGLE
2. GOOGLE BALLS: THE MYSTERY DOODLE
3. JOHN LENNON: IMAGINE THIS DOODLE
4. MARTHA GRAHAM: THE DANCING DOODLE
5. FREDDIE MERCURY: THE MUSIC VIDEO
6. JIM HENSON: THE CLICKABLE MUPPETS
7. ART CLOKEY: THE “GUMBY DOODLE”
8. JULES VERNE: THE DEEP-SEA DOODLE
9. STANISLAW LEM: THE ANIMATED SCI-FI GAME
10. VALENTINE’S DAY: THE “COLD, COLD HEART” DOODLE