The subject of today’s birthday-bash Google Doodle, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, made the invisible visible, established one of the metrics we use to measure musical pitch, computer processing speed, radar and Wi-Fi, and was sadly struck down by an incurable disease that destroyed his organs, ending his life at just 36. He would have been 155 today.
If you’ve grown up over the past three decades, you’ve probably seen Hertz’s namesake any time you’ve shopped for a PC. 386SX 16 megahertz (MHz)? Pentium 4 1.5 gigahertz (GHz)? The common denominator: Hertz, a metric unit that measures frequency, and equal to one cycle per second.
Hertz (the man) was a German physicist born in 1857 and the first person to broadcast and receive radio signals. He showed us that electricity can be conveyed by electromagnetic waves, following from the work of James Maxwell, the Scottish physicist and mathematician who formulated the theory of electromagnetism (that electricity and magnetism are interrelated and not separate forces). Hertz’s contributions are all the more remarkable considering how relatively brief his lifespan: He died in 1894, just 36 years old, a victim of what would eventually come to be known in 1936 as Wegener’s granulomatosis, a disease still incurable to this day that inflames the circulatory system and causes severe organ damage. His last name was adopted as the official metric for representing frequency in October 1933, nearly 40 years later.
Today’s oscillating Google Doodle offers apt tribute to Hertz with its roller coaster-like wave peaks and troughs fashioned after Google’s rainbow-colored logo. Note the high blue loop (the top of the G), the shorter red and yellow ones for O’s, the drooping blue (the lowercase ‘g’) and so forth. The Washington Post says the animated GIF’s creator, Sophia Foster-Dimino, is a San Francisco illustrator and cartoonist who’s been doodling for Google since 2010.
“For this Doodle, we chose to create a simple and elegant homage for Heinrich Hertz, whose research into electromagnetic waves contributed to the invention of the radio, television and radar,” Foster-Dimino told Post blog Comic Riffs. “So extensive were his experiments that there’s a unit of frequency, the hertz, named for him — hence our wavy Doodle!”
R.E.M. may have been talking about the nutjob who assaulted journalist Dan Rather in its 1994 radio hit, but the man whose name describes the invisible wireless world around us was in his own way asking “What’s the frequency?” over a century ago.