How radio communications transformed the world

1 October 2013
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IET symposium at the 24th International Congress on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (iCHSTM)

Showcasing the IET on an international stage: (l-r) Dr Mik Fiorini, Des Prouse, Dr Anna Guagnini, Bob Martin-Royle.

IET Italy and the History of Technology TPN joined forces this summer to present a symposium at the 24th iCHSTM.

IET Italy and the History of Technology TPN joined forces this summer to present a symposium on behalf of the IET at the 24th International Congress on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (iCHSTM) held in Manchester, UK.

Held every four years under the auspices of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) dating back to the 1920s, this prestigious event is back in the UK some 40 years since its previous visits in 1931 and 1973. Its most recent events were held in Mexico City in 2001, Beijing in 2005, and Budapest in 2009.

Attended by scientists, engineers and historians from around the world the event saw nearly 1800 delegates from 70 countries in attendance. With Congress programmes structured as plenary sessions and parallel specialist symposia, around 1400 papers were presented during the week-long event.

The IET symposium gave the opportunity to showcase the IET on an international stage, with the theme ‘How radio technology evolution has changed the world’. 2013 is the bi-centenary of the birth of David Livingstone, the famous Victorian missionary and explorer. During his 1866 to 1873 expedition in search of the source of the Nile he lost contact with the rest of the world for a long period of time prompting Henry Stanley’s search for him. On their meeting on the shores of Lake Tanganika legend has it that he spoke the words, ’Dr Livingstone I presume?’. However, even as Livingstone’s explorations were taking place the seeds of a revolutionary new technology were starting to germinate – radio communications - which has since transformed the world and exploration.

Bob Martin-Royle, chairman of the IET History of Technology TPN, opened the IET symposium by reviewing the pre-history of radio from James Clerk Maxwell’s theories, via Hertz through to Oliver Lodge’s renowned lectures and demonstrations, to the Royal Institution in London and the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford during 1894, and the controversial role of Popov.

Dr Anna Guagnini, historian from Bologna University, then spoke on the creative role of Marconi in establishing commercially viable radio technology. Bob Martin-Royle next briefly summarised radio developments over the following 50 years before introducing Des Prouse, satellite specialist and leader of the campaign to preserve the UK’s first space terminal at Goonhilly. Des reviewed the history of satellites and how today they provide GPS location facilities, satellite phone communication, surveillance, mapping, and telemonitoring services. Des posed the question that if these facilities had been available to Livingstone would he have needed to go to Africa to search for the Nile’s source?

The Symposium was rounded off with Dr Michele (Mik) Fiorini, chairman of IET Italy who discussed exploration at sea, the history of distress calls and developments in e-navigation.

Attended by delegates from as far afield as New Zealand and the USA the IET symposium was well received with a lively Q&A session at the end.

In addition to the IET’s symposium, two other members of the IET History of Technology TPN presented papers at other symposia during the Congress. Dr Liz Bruton spoke on Poincare’s contribution to radio technology and Dr Phil Judkins delivered a paper on the reasons for the failure of the Anglo-French Variable-Geometry (AFVG) project, 1965-7, which had been intended to succeed the cancelled TSR2.