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The Wireless Era - The Marvels of Modern Physics

By Rogers D. Rusk, B. Sc.

The Wireless Era is a name frequently given to the scientific period upon which we are now entering, by people who realize only vaguely themselves what they actually mean by it. In reality there is a surprising relation between wire and wireless transmission. That they are not distinctly different phenomena may put new meaning in the phrase, "Wireless Era."

The question has often been asked "Will all wires be done away with in the future?" Now the theory most generally accepted at present is that the energy of an electric current in ordinary wire transmission does not reside in the wire, but in the ether surrounding the wire, and that the wire is, as its name implies, merely a conductor to conduct or lead the current here or there. To make this clear, let us imagine a current moving in the wire in Fig. 1, from A to B and returning by the ground. The dotted spiral lines represent the strain in the ether due to the electro-static and the electromagnetic lines of force about the wire. The important point to notice is that the current, without this field, would be lifeless and inert because the magnetic field represents the energy of motion of the current; it would then have no energy of motion, for the energy is really stored up in the ether and is transmitted by it.

Let us look beneath the surface a moment at wireless transmission. In Fig. 2, the wireless waves are represented as traveling from aerial A to B. We cannot doubt for a moment but what the energy is transmitted by the ether, as no conducting medium is present. Therefore, the main difference between wire and wireless transmission seems to be that while in wire transmission the energy is directed to a definite point, in wireless it spreads out and dissipates itself in all directions.

A further study of Figs. 1 and 2 may reveal the reason for this. In a steady direct current the field is steady and continuous.

Change this current, however, to an alternating one and the field or ether strain varies accordingly, producing an undulatory motion of the ether. That is, the field about the wire rises and falls periodically. With an ordinary alternating current the strain in the ether is most noticeable just about the wire and becomes negligible a short distance away, although theoretically the waves may travel at each reversal a long distance before being dissipated. Let us raise the potential and frequency, however, and see what happens. The field rises to full strength in a very short time, and the waves follow each other at a greater speed. This means that radiation is going to amount to much more than before. The waves are going to be stronger, and their number will be multiplied many times. If instead of using a wire to direct the energy from A to B, we shorten the circuit very much, making it merely a local circuit at A, and if we put another small or local circuit at B, then some of the radiant energy from A will be intercepted at B, and these waves passing B will induce a slight current at B.

This is wireless transmission. See what a gradual step it is instead of a very sudden one from wire to wireless transmission. In one case we have a small radiation factor, due to a real current in a conductor. In the other case we have a high radiation factor due to the absence of a long conductor. In the first the energy is directed; while in the second, it spreads out in all directions.

The medium of transmission of the energy is the same in either case. The result is that in one case a large per cent of the energy reaches its destination, while in the other case only a very small per cent does.

The field about a wire carrying a direct current acts quite like an invisible whirlpool which pulls the electrons, or charged particles in the wire, along. The field, in turn, grows with the current, for the action is an inter-dependent one, and the result is a continuous current. If, with an alternating current, the oscillation frequency is high, the current does not have time between reversals to penetrate the wire deeply, and it is found that the current exists only on the surface of the wire. This is the well known skin effect and shows again that the energy must reside in the external field, and that it takes some appreciable time to start the electrons in motion. This is what we call a current in a wire.

Wireless telegraphy came into prominence in 1896, when Dr. Guglielmo Marconi first demonstrated its commercial value. Since then its importance has increased by leaps and bounds. The submarine has been directed from the shore by wireless; the human voice has been transmitted hundreds and thousands of miles; and various kinds of mechanism have been controlled by it.

However, the glaring predictions of a wireless era for a while somewhat unduly inflamed the imagination of the public. Let us look at the facts.

It is very significant that one prediction of a few years ago has not been realized, and that was concerning the wireless transmission of power. Power and energy are two different things. Energy is any capacity for doing work, while power is the rate at which work is done.

Now sufficient energy may be sent across the ocean to easily operate a delicate detector, but the rate at which any work is done is ridiculously minute. Energy has been transmitted but the power was negligible. When a submarine is controlled at a distance, it is not power from the shore which operates the machinery, but rather power from some source on board the boat itself which is controlled by the energy transmitted from the shore. The strength of the waves decrease too rapidly with the distance to allow of any great amount of energy being transmitted.

Most everyone remembers the rule that the intensity of light varies inversely as the square of the distance from the source. Applying this to wireless, and neglecting other losses, at the distance of one mile the energy would only be

of its original value. This in itself would stamp the wireless transmission of power as impracticable unless a different method of transmission than that now in use were discovered.

Nikola Tesla believed he had solved the problem and in 1905 took out patents for a system of wireless transmission of power, with the ether as the medium. In brief, by his system, he intended setting up powerful, stationary, electric waves, setting the whole earth in vibration due to the reflection and superimposition of waves from all parts of the earth.

The principle is similar to that of a string tied at one end and waved back and forth by the hand at the other. Waves from the hand would travel to the opposite end and be reflected back (see Fig. 4) creating nodes and loops of vibration in the string. The proposition, it was claimed, had been partially demonstrated, and on the strength of this a wonderful station was built on Long Island.

Every reader of scientific periodicals is familiar with its picture and history. At present it is deserted, but Tesla is still working upon the subject. The problem, however, is as yet unsolved. We will not say it is impossible of solution, for do we not have real wireless transmission of power as an everyday occurrence in the ordinary transformer?

Though there is no metallic connection between the primary and secondary coils, yet there is an immense transfer of power at only a slight loss. Notice how near the ideal conditions are, however. The distance is negligibly small, and even the medium itself is improved by the presence of a soft iron core. It is too common a fact for us to consider it wonderful, and yet the result is the same as that which has puzzled many scientific minds to reproduce or duplicate through any great distance.

As wireless telegraphy and telephony supplement, rather than take the place of the ordinary systems and as the transmission of power is the back-bone of commerce and industry, it seems the wires are here to stay for a long time to come. However, we must not disrespect the possibility of just as revolutionary discoveries in the future as have occurred in the past, hard as they are for us to even conceive of now.

Why, even wireless telegraphy would not have approached the success it has, if the energy radiated directly by the Hertzian oscillator had been depended upon. In the first place the decrease of energy, as shown by the above law, would have been so great as to have been discouraging; and secondly, the fact that radiation travels in straight lines would have made long distance communication impossible, owing to the curvature of the earth.

Both of these theories were advanced early in the development of the subject, and when approached near at hand were neither of them found as forbidding as they had seemed. It was shortly found that when the sending station was suitably grounded, that the waves actually follow the surface of the earth, and the invention of sensitive detectors made the transmission of a large amount of energy unnecessary for signaling.

Many such facts about wireless telegraphy are a mystery to the average person, and although the mathematics of radiation were actually worked out over sixty years ago by James Clerk Maxwell and his co-workers, many of the exact physical actions which take place are but little understood even by the brilliant scientists of the present day. Much more is known, however, than formerly.

The wireless wave follows the earth as a huge conductor, because when the oscillations occur in the aerial, shown in Fig. 3, the lines of force moving up and down the aerial with the oscillating charge, throw off loops as shown, which are waves traveling partly in and partly above the earth. These travel off exactly like ripples on a pond, and also follow the curvature of the earth.

They are much stronger than if radiated in all directions. It is evident they are not as wireless as they might seem, for the earth acts as a huge conductor. In early experiments between Lynn, Mass., and Schenectady, N.Y., communication was found impossible, due to the dry rock mountains intervening which acted as effective, non-conducting carriers. Not long afterward communication was established between Clifden, Ireland, and Buenos Aires, S.A., a distance of six thousand miles, the intervening water being a good conducting medium.

Wireless telegraphy and telephony are now of immeasurable commercial value, to say nothing of their importance from a purely scientific standpoint. It may even be said that we have been approaching as a limit the wire transmission of power for some years. In 1890 a power line was established, thirteen miles long, at Portland, Oregon, which transmitted current at 4,000 volts. In 1903, in Mexico, a line was built 104 miles long, to operate at 60,000 volts, while in 1913 the Pacific Light & Power Company of Los Angeles, Cal., began operating a line 240 miles long at 150,000 volts.

This latter means a comparatively small current and a small conductor acting more and more as a guide rather than a vehicle for the power. Has a limit been reached; or will this record distance and voltage soon be eclipsed? It is a problem the engineers and scientists will try to solve in the near future.

The wireless era does not mean an era where wires are taken down and thrown on the scrap heap. We must not look for scientific miracles for nature follows natural laws. It means an age where an extra gift has been given to man, enabling him to extend his influence beyond the sphere of base matter; to annihilate distance and gain control over the finer forces of nature.

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