Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 22, 1857 to Gustav Ferdinand Hertz, an advisor in Hamburg, and Anna Elisabeth Pfefferkorn, the daughter of a doctor.
While going to school at the University of Hamburg, he showed an aptitude for sciences and languages. He studied sciences and engineering in the German cities of Dresden, Munich and Berlin. He obtained his PhD in 1880 and in 1883 he took a post as a lecturer in theoretical physics at the University of Kiel. In 1885 he became a full professor at the University of Karlsruhe where he discovered electromagnetic waves.
In 1886, Hertz developed a dipole antenna. This antenna is a center-fed driven element for transmitting or receiving radio frequency energy. These antennas are the simplest practical antennas from a theoretical point of view.
In 1887, he made observations of the photoelectric effect and of the production and reception of electromagnetic (EM) waves, published in the journal Annalen der Physik (Annals of physics).
His receiver consisted of a coil with a spark gap, whereupon a spark would be seen upon detection of EM waves. He placed the apparatus in a darkened box in order to see the spark better; he observed, however, that the maximum spark length was reduced when in the box. A glass panel placed between the source of EM waves and the receiver absorbed the ultraviolet radiation that assisted the electrons in jumping across the gap.When removed, the spark length would increase. He observed no decrease in spark length when he substituted quartz for glass, as quartz does not absorb UV radiation. Hertz concluded his months of investigation and reported the results obtained. He did not further pursue investigation of this effect, nor did he make any attempt at explaining how the observed phenomenon was brought about.
In his laboratory Hertz experimented with radio waves. He used a Ruhmkorff coil-driven spark gap and one meter wire pair as a radiator. Capacity spheres were present at the ends for circuit resonance adjustments. His receiver was a simple half-wave dipole antenna for shortwaves.
He is quoted as saying: 'I do not think that the wireless waves I have discovered will have any practical application'.
In 1892, an infection was diagnosed (after a bout of severe migraines) and Hertz underwent some operations to correct the illness. He died of blood poisoning on January 1, 1894 at the age of 36 in Bonn, Germany.
In 1930 the SI unit for frequency, hertz (Hz), was established in his honour by the IEC. It is defined as 'a measurement of the number of times that a repeated event occurs per unit of time (also called 'cycles per sec' (cps))'.
In 1969, in what was then East Germany, there was cast a Heinrich Hertz memorial medal.
In 1987 the IEEE established the Heinrich Hertz Medal for outstanding achievements in Hertzian waves. It is presented annually to an individual for achievements which are theoretical or experimental in nature.
A crater that lies on the far side of the Moon, just behind the eastern limb, is also named in his honour.