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Popov, Aleksandr Stepanovich

radio russian engineering electrical

[pop of] (1859–1906) Russian physicist: radio pioneer.

Planning to enter the clergy, Popov studied at a seminary, but after graduation his interests in physics and engineering led him to study at the university at St Petersburg and concurrently to work at the Elektrotekhnik artel which generated electric power. In 1883 he joined the naval Torpedo School at Kronstadt, as an instructor in electrical engineering.

Following the discovery of electromagnetic radiation in the radio band by in 1888, and the development of a crude detector for this by (1844–1940), Popov became interested in radio and like he worked to improve Branly’s ‘coherer’ of 1894. By 1895 Popov was able to demonstrate a detector that was effective up to 80 m from a spark generator, and in the same year he used it in modified form to record atmospheric discharges (his ‘storm indicator’) in 1896 staked his claims for wireless telegraphy, using equipment patented in 1897 which accorded with Popov’s description of 1896. During 1897–1900 Popov’s apparatus was used by the Russian army and navy, and he became professor at the St Petersburg Institute of Electrical Engineering and director there in 1905. In that role he refused to follow instructions to repress firmly the students’ political activism, and died soon after this conflict with authority.

The Russian Physico-chemical Society early concluded that Popov should ‘be recognized as the inventor of wireless telegraphy’ and this has remained the view of his countrymen. However, this recognition has not been generally conceded elsewhere in Europe, where priority has been accorded to Marconi; Popov, like Lodge, is seen as active in the field but not the foremost innovator. It is widely accepted that Popov was the first to use antenna aerials for radio transmission and reception.

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