Bruce Hunt’s article about Oliver Heaviside (Physics Today, November 2012, page 48) is interesting, useful, and instructive. An additional important detail is Heaviside’s remarkable prediction of Cherenkov radiation.1 

Flow around an obstacle with speed greater than the characteristic phase velocity of the perturbations results in a bow shock in front of the obstacle. That wave phenomenon can be explained by Huygens’s principle. It arises in front of a bullet, a supersonic jet, or a moving boat. A hydrodynamical Mach cone may be observed even in a bath when you move a finger along the water surface faster than the phase velocity of surface waves.

The effect should also arise from a charged particle moving uniformly with velocity greater than the speed of light in the medium. Such an electromagnetic Mach cone was observed in 1934 by Pavel Cherenkov, who, along with Igor Tamm and Ilya Frank, was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery and its explanation. But the original idea of this effect belongs to Heaviside. Frank acknowledged Heaviside’s priority in his detailed history of the discovery.2 

In our opinion, Oliver Heaviside’s immense contributions to science are still underestimated, and he has yet to receive the level of recognition he highly deserves.

Philos. Mag.