Who was Oliver Heaviside?

Basics of Engineering Read more from
Chapter Math in Engineering

English electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside (1850–1925) was a self-taught genius who made several contributions to the field of electricity and even atmospheric studies. In 1902 Heaviside predicted that there was a conducting layer in the atmosphere that allowed radio waves to follow the Earth’s curvature—a layer now named after him.

In electrical engineering, Heaviside was best known for operational calculus, a tool for solving linear differential equations with constant coefficients. It was usually applied to brief or fleeting (called transient) phenomena and was very similar to Laplace transform in its calculations. Although Laplace had developed his ideas almost a century before, Heaviside knew nothing of them, because they were not well-known during his time.

But Heaviside’s operational calculus did have its problems, as well as its critics. It was severely limited because of its lack of mathematical theory. This not only limited its applications, but also created many uncertainties and ambiguities in the equations and solutions. Today, operational calculus has been replaced by Laplace transform, especially in fields such as electrical engineering.


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