Self-taught physicist behind telecommunications theory honoured with blue plaque

The physicist, mathematician and electrical engineer was name-dropped in the musical Cats.

Physicist, mathematician and electrical engineer Oliver Heaviside (English Heritage/PA)

By Ellie Iorizzo, PA Senior Entertainment Reporter

English Heritage has unveiled a blue plaque in honour of the self-taught physicist behind the theory of telecommunications.

Oliver Heaviside, who has been celebrated for his theories which advanced electronic communications, has been commemorated outside his terraced home in Camden, north London, where he continued his education after leaving school aged 16.

His most notable work includes the ground-breaking interpretation of James Clerk Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism, bridging the gap between the theory of telecommunications and its practice.

Blue Plaque to Oliver Heaviside (English Heritage/PA)

Howard Spencer, senior historian at English Heritage, said: “Oliver Heaviside was a physicist whose theories framed one of the biggest recent technological leaps of humankind – the development and advancement of electrical communications.

“Both the mobile phone in your pocket and the old-school landline at home owe plenty to Heaviside’s work.”

English Heritage have described his accomplishments as remarkable given they were attained without the benefit of a higher education or social privilege and the fact he had been left almost entirely deaf by scarlet fever in childhood.

“He is a great example of the incredible achievements to have come from London’s ordinary working people and English Heritage is delighted to honour him with a blue plaque,” Spencer added.

Commemorative plaque for Patrick Steptoe, one of the scientists who pioneered the first test-tube baby (Bourn Hall Fertility Clinic/PA)

The physicist, mathematician and electrical engineer, who lived at 123 Camden Street in London, would later be name-dropped in the musical Cats.

In the show, “Up up up to the Heaviside layer” is a reference to Heaviside’s discovery not of a cat heaven but of a reflective layer in the upper atmosphere which allowed radio waves to be “bent” around the earth.

Heaviside joins the likes of naturalist Charles Darwin, pioneer of fertility treatment Patrick Steptoe, and code-breaker turned pioneer of computer science Alan Turing, with blue plaques.

English Heritage has said 15% of the 950 plus official blue plaques across London are dedicated to scientists.

The charity has been encouraging people to nominate London-based scientists from the past, like Heaviside, for a plaque.

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