Harry Nyquist life and biography

Harry Nyquist picture, image, poster

Harry Nyquist biography

Date of birth : 1889-02-07
Date of death : 1976-04-04
Birthplace : Värmland, Sweden
Nationality : Swiss-American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2010-05-26
Credited as : Electrical engineer, physicist, contributions to telecommunications

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Harry Nyquist was an American physicist, electrical and communications engineer, a prolific inventor who made fundamental theoretical and practical contributions to telecommunications.

The Sweden years

Harry Nyquist’s parents Lars Jonsson and Katarina Eriksdotter got married 1879. The year after they bought a farm in Tomthult together with Olof Jonsson a brother to Lars. The farm is called “Dar Sor” and is situated 40 kilometers north of Karlstad, the main town in this region called “Varmland”. In 1894 the couple released Olof from the farm. An interesting fact is that the family was baptists when the Swedish church is Lutheranian.
The name Jonsson had to be changed because just hundred meters away there lived another Lars Jonsson and there was huge problem with the mail delivery. Therefore they agreed to change names, which not was a rare thing to do at this time. Harry’s father changed the name to Nyquist.

Harry was the fourth child of eight and was born on 7 February 1889 in Nilsby, Sweden.

The other children were Elin, Astrid, Selma, Ameli, Olga, Axel and Berta. The family was far from rich, but still the children were allowed to study six years in school and after that the continuing school with more concentrated education. Harry went to three different school houses. This because the old school burnt down in 1899 and during the building of a new school the education was held in Nilsby Mission-Hall.

Harry went also to school in the new building that was finished in 1900. Parallelly Harry helped his father in his shoemaker’s shop and the farm. Harry’s teacher Moden put a lot of confidence in Harry and Harry could even borrow books from his teacher (not common in those days). Moden wanted Harry to be a teacher. When Harry pointed out that his family was poor the teacher suggested that he should emigrate to America because the chances were bigger there. Two of Moden’s sons had already done that.

Harry was at that time 14 years old. The following years he worked at the construction of the sulfate factory in Deje in order to fulfill the demands on emigration and to get travel money: 10 dollars and a guarantee that he has a job in America. It took 4 years of hard work to fulfill the goal – to emigrate to America.

Education and Career in the U.S.A.

Nyquist moved to the United States in 1907. Harry Nyquist came to the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, in 1912, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degree in 1914 and his master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree in 1915. Nyquist continued his graduate studies at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., where he received the Ph.D. in physics in 1917.
He was employed at American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) from 1917 to 1934, in the Department of Development and Research Transmission, where he was concerned with studies on telegraph picture and voice transmission.
From 1934 to 1954 he was with the Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., where he continued in the work of communications engineering, especially in transmission engineering and systems engineering. At the time of his retirement from Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1954, Nyquist was Assistant Director of Systems Studies.

During his 37 years of service with the Bell System, he received 138 U.S. patents and published twelve technical articles. His many important contributions to the radio art include the first quantitative explanation of thermal noise, signal transmission studies which laid the foundation for modern information theory and data transmission, the invention of the vestigial sideband transmission system now widely-used in television broadcasting, and the well-known Nyquist diagram for determining the stability of feedback systems.

Harry Nyquist (right) with John R. Pierce (left) and Rudolf Kompfner (center) – all scientists working for Bell Labs (1960). Bell Labs scientist John R. Pierce uncovered the principles and mathematics for the stable operation of the traveling wave tube, a device that amplifies microwave frequencies at very high power. The technology is used in space – vehicles and satellite guidance systems, and in communications networks.

Some of Nyquist’s best-known work was done in the 1920s and was inspired by telegraph communication problems of the time. Because of the elegance and generality of his writings, much of it continues to be cited and used. In 1924 he published “Certain Factors Affecting Telegraph Speed,” an analysis of the relationship between the speed of a telegraph system and the number of signal values used by the system.

His 1928 paper “Certain Topics in Telegraph Transmission Theory” refined his earlier results and established the principles of sampling continuous signals to convert them to digital signals. The Nyquist sampling theorem showed that the sampling rate must be at least twice the highest frequency present in the sample in order to reconstruct the original signal.
These two papers by Nyquist, along with one by R.V.L. Hartley, are cited in the first paragraph of Claude Shannon’s classic essay “The Mathematical Theory of Communication” (1948), where their seminal role in the development of information theory is acknowledged.

In 1927 Nyquist provided a mathematical explanation of the unexpectedly strong thermal noise studied by J.B. Johnson. The understanding of noise is of critical importance for communications systems. Thermal noise is sometimes called Johnson noise or Nyquist noise because of their pioneering work in this field.
In 1932 Nyquist discovered how to determine when negative feedback amplifiers are stable. His criterion, generally called the Nyquist stability theorem, is of great practical importance. During World War II it helped control artillery employing electromechanical feedback systems.

His remarkable career included advances in the improvement of long-distance telephone circuits, picture transmission systems, and television. Dr. Nyquist’s professional, technical, and scientific accomplishments are recognized worldwide.
It has been claimed that Dr. Nyquist and Dr. Claude Shannon, another signal procession pioneer, are responsible for virtually all the theoretical advances in modern telecommunications. He was credited with nearly 150 patents during his 37-year career.
His accomplishments underscore the excellent preparation in engineering that he received at the University of North Dakota. In addition to Nyquist’s theoretical work, he was a prolific inventor and is credited with 138 patents relating to telecommunications.

Nyquist and FAX

In 1918 H. Nyquist began investigating ways to adapt telephone circuits for picture transmission. By 1924 this research bore fruit in “telephotography” – AT&T’s fax machine. The principless used in 1924 were the same as those used today, though the technology was comparatively crude. A photographic transparency was mounted on a spinning drum and scanned. This data, transformed into electrical signals that were proportional in intensity to the shades and tones of the image, were transmitted over phone lines and deposited onto a similarly spinning sheet of photographic negative film, which was then developed in a darkroom.
The first fax images were 5×7 photographs sent to Manhattan from Cleveland and took seven minutes each to transmit.

In the late 1920s, the only technology to preserve musical recordings was to copy sound waves in wax. Harry Nyquist, an AT&T scientist, thought there was a better way. He wrote a landmark paper (Nyquist, Harry, “Certain topics in Telegraph Transmission Theory,” published in 1928) describing the criteria for what we know today as sampled data systems.

Nyquist taught us that for periodic functions, if you sampled at a rate that was at least twice as fast as the signal of interest, then no information (data) would be lost upon reconstruction. And since Fourier had already shown that all alternating signals are made up of nothing more than a sum of harmonically related sine and cosine waves, then audio signals are periodic functions and can be sampled without lost of information following Nyquist’s instructions. This became known as the Nyquist frequency, which is the highest frequency that may be accurately sampled, and is one-half of the sampling frequency.

Mixed Kinetic and Diffusion Control

First consider a cell where semi-infinite diffusion is the rate determining step, with a series solution resistance as the only other cell impedance. A Nyquist plot for this cell is shown in Figure 9. Rs was assumed to be 20 W. The Warburg coefficient calculated to be about 120 Wsec-1/2 at room temperature for a two electron transfer, diffusion of a single species with a bulk concentration of 100 mM and a typical diffusion coefficient of 1.6×10-5 cm2/sec. Notice that the Warburg Impedance appears as a straight line with a slope of 45°.

Information theory is often considered to have begun with work by Harry Nyquist (H. Nyquist, Certain factors affecting telegraph speed, Bell System Technical Journal, 3, 324-346, 1924). While new knowledge is built by individuals standing on the shoulders of those who performed earlier research, people such as Nyquist can be seen as being extraordinarily creative for putting together previous work to produce a new and unique model.
Writing in the Bell System Technical Journal, Nyquist suggested that two factors determine the “maximum speed of transmission of intelligence”. Each telephone cable is implicitly considered to have a limit imposed on it such that there is a finite, maximum speed for transmitting “intelligence”.
This limit was widely understood by practicing electrical engineers of the era to be related to such factors as power, noise, and the frequency of the intelligent signal. Accepting such a limit as a given, Nyquist was able to work backwards towards the study of what was transmitted. He began referring to what was transmitted as “information.”

The two fundamental factors governing the maximum speed of data transmission are the shape of a signal and the choice of code used to represent the intelligence. Responding to the earlier work of Squier and others, Nyquist argues that telegraph signals are most efficiently transmitted when the intelligence carrying waves are rectangular. Given a particular “code”, use of square waves allows for intelligence to be transmitted faster than with sine waves in many practical environments.
Once the proper wave form is selected, a different problem arises: how should “intelligence” be represented? Telegraphers had long used Morse code and its variants to transmit text messages across distances. Each character was represented by a set of short or long electronic signals, the familiar dots and dashes. The letter C, for example, is represented in modern Morse code by a dash dot dash dot sequence.
Experienced telegraphers listen to messages at speeds far exceeding the ability of humans to consciously translate each individual dash or dot into a “thought representation” of the symbol; instead, Morse code is heard as a rhythm, with the rhythm for letters and common words being learned through long periods of listening.

Working backwards from the maximum telegraph speed, Nyquist considered the characteristics of an “ideal” code. Morse code is adequate for many applications, but an “adequate code” is far from being the best or optimal code available. Suggesting that the speed of intelligence transmission is proportional to the logarithm of the number of symbols which need to be represented, Nyquist was able to measure the amount of intelligence that can be transmitted using an ideal code. This is one step away from stating that there is a given amount of intelligence in a representation.

After his retirement, Nyquist was employed as a part time consultant engineer on communication matters by the Department of Defense, Stavid Engineering Inc., and the W.L. Maxson Corporation.

Before his death in 1976 Nyquist received many honors for his outstanding work in communications. He was the fourth person to receive the National Academy of Engineer’s Founder’s Medal, “in recognition of his many fundamental contributions to engineering.” In 1960, he received and the IRE Medal of Honor “for fundamental contributions to a quantitative understanding of thermal noise, data transmission and negative feedback.” Nyquist was also awarded the Stuart Ballantine Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1960, and the Mervin J. Kelly award in 1961. He passed away on 4 April 1976.

This work consists of a matrix of 12 x 16 (192) white LEDs, which display a portrait of the well-known engineer who was involved in analog-to-digital conversion theory. The portrait cycles through a sequence of random noise.


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