Alexander Popov attended the University of St. Petersburg starting from 1877. After graduating in the field of mathematics, he joined the university’s teaching faculty. However, Popov’s scientific interest switched to electrical engineering. Therefor, he became an instructor at the Russian Navy’s Torpedo School at Kronstadt near St. Petersburg. There, the students were taught to take charge of electrical equipment on Russian warships and Popov himself managed to take advantage of the institution’s well equipped library. Popov was influenced by the works of the German physicist Heinrich Hertz and his discovery of electromagnetic waves and began to search for methods of receiving them over long distances.
Alexander Popov build a device to register atmospheric electrical disturbances and installed it at the meteorological observatory of the Institute of Forestry in St. Petersburg in 1895. Popov published his results in a paper suggesting that such an apparatus could be used for the reception of signals from a man-made source of oscillations. He appeared before the St. Petersburg Physicochemical Society, demonstrating the transmission of Hertzian waves between different parts of the University of St. Petersburg buildings.
In May 1895, Popov demonstrated his evidence that the words ‘Heinrich Hertz’ were transmitted in Morse code and that the aural signals received were transcribed on a blackboard by the society’s president, who was the chairman of the meeting. It is believed that he read a newspaper article about Marconi’s demonstrations in September 1896 for the first time in 1896. However, it is believed that neither Marconi nor Popov was aware of the close similarity between their experiments.
Working together with the Russian navy, Popov successfully established a ship-to-shore communication over a distance of 10 km by 1898. In the next months, they were able to increase the maximum distance up to 50km. Unfortunately however, it is believed that Popov did not receive much support by the Russian government until 50 years later, when national attitudes and enthusiasms had changed.
Popov’s experimental work in connection with Hertzian waves dserves much recognition. However, it has not been generally accepted that radio communication was actually invented by him. His description of the receiving apparatus was published in 1896 and it closely coincides with the patenht by Marconi, published in June 1896. Alexander Popov is considered the first to use an antenna in the transmission and reception of radio waves.
In his later life, Alexander Popov returned to St. Petersburg as professor at the electrotechnical institute. There, he was later also appointed director.
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