The many uses of Radio Waves

“What’s the go o’ that?” and “Show me how it doos!” are just two of the common outbursts which served to stimulate young James Clerk Maxwell’s curiosity about the way things worked. When he was older, his curious nature would lead him to formulate classical electromagnetic theory. This took what was known about electricity, magnetism and optics and combined the findings into a solid suggestion. Chief among them, was how electrical and magnetic fields traveled through space in waves at the consistent speed of light. This theory led to his use of mathematical equations to predict the reality of radio waves in 1865. Several decades later, after Heinrich Hertz demonstrated Maxwell’s bold prediction in a laboratory setting, the way mankind transferred information was changed forever.

Because radio waves can be artificially made at different frequencies, and because the Earth’s atmosphere effects each frequency differently, they have been used in many different inventions.

In its simplest form, radio waves are used for the sending and receiving of Morse Code. Navigators and  operators from ports detail course, alerts and other pertinent information by sending radio waves on a compatible frequency. The message, being based on the length of each wave.

However, the use of radio waves is not confined to sound. Television uses radio waves by transmitting them in coded form through coaxial cables. This, along with use of fiber optics, produces images in still or moving form.

Radio waves are commonly used in tracking mechanisms and radar. Submarines and spacecraft (including satellites) can utilize radio waves by sending signals in an outward direction in order to ascertain their distances from nearby objects or even other planets.

Remote control devices, such as toys, rockets and even pipeline valves can be activated using radio signals. The antennae of such items is set to activate upon receiving a specific radio wave or radio wave combination.  This allows them to be operated from great distances.

Cell phones and cordless phones are perhaps the most common devices for sending and receiving radio waves. The invention of the transistor enabled radio waves to be sent and received by these portable instruments. This allowed signals to be sent via radio waves instead of the more direct method through lines and cables.

Telescopes also use radio waves. Celestial bodies such as planets frequently emit strong gases, latent with radio waves that can be monitored using telescopes. This, in turn, alerts astronomers of interstellar activities.

Unbeknownst to James Clerk Maxwell, his theories of electromagnetism, and his prediction of radio waves in particular, has led to the production of efficient and effective inventions all over the world. His brilliant curiosity was the platform from which the earth was propelled into a new era of communications. Since the days when he pleaded, “Show me how it doos!” radio waves have become a staple necessity to our everyday lives. Just how many more innovations will come from his work seems only a “What’s the go o’ that?” away.