In 1881 Oliver got his break, he was appointed Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Liverpool University College, where he was to remain until 1900. It was here that he carried out much of his ground breaking scientific work.
His early experiments centred round investigation into lightning strikes, and exactly why lightning conductors and rods sometimes did not work as designed, with strikes discharging through alternate paths. In the laboratory, Lodge simulated lightning by discharging Leyden jars; a crude form of electrical capacitor constructed from a glass container coated with foil inside and out, and a central electrode. This arrangement had the ability to temporarily hold an electrical charge which could be discharged with a sudden rush, or surge of power.
When the jars discharged through a long length of copper wire, it was found that the charge would take a shorter, higher resistance route; rather than the longer, but much lower resistance path of the copper cable. Lodge delivered a series of lectures on this phenomenon which was not fully understood at the time but is now recognised as self-inductance.
At the same time, it was observed that the cables glowed at regular intervals along their length, this was recognised as evidence of the existence of electromagnetic waves. Lodge published a series of papers on this subject, and in June 1894 delivered a lecture to the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University on his work, and that of Hertz (recently deceased). He also demonstrated the similarity of electromagnetic waves to light and vision, and their ability to travel through free space, proving Maxwell’s theory. This was arguably the first radio transmission in the UK. The experiments continued, and on August 14th, 1894 Lodge succeeded in transmitting a radio wave for a distance of 55 metres.
The equipment used was simple but effective. The electrical charge from the Leyden jars would be discharged through wires into an antenna, which transmitted an electromagnetic wave pulse. A similar antenna at a fixed distance away picked up the pulse, which was detected by a coherer (invented by Edouard Branley). This device was a simple glass tube containing metal filings between two electrodes. When the wave pulse from the receiving antenna was applied to the electrodes, this caused the particles to cling together or ‘cohere’. The slight impulses from this device were indicated by a galvanometer, conclusive proof that a signal was being transmitted and received. Authors Note: The above account is a much simplified explanation of the methods adopted by Lodge, fuller aspects of the experiments involve extremely detailed and complicated physics which are beyond the scope of this book, and indeed my own understandings on the subject.