The term RADAR (RAdio Detection And Ranging) was coined in 1939 many years after the principles of radar were demonstrated independently by a number of countries in the first few decades of the 20th century.
So did Scotland play a part in this world changing development?
The principles of radar have at their heart the four Maxwell fundamental equations which, in addition to the fact they show that light is an electromagnetic wave, describe the behaviour of electric and magnetic fields. A citizen of Edinburgh, Maxwell’s groundbreaking equations unified observations of magnetism, electricity and optics into electromagnetic theory places him in the same league as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. Indeed, Einstein once said of Maxwell’s work that it was the “most profound and the most fruitful that physics has experienced since the time of Newton”.
No radar, nor any discussion where power is employed, would be complete without reference to Watts, (James Watt, the Glaswegian whose name is etched in shorthand today on every light bulb and object consuming or generating power) nor would any calculation be attempted without using reference to the decibel, or dB, whose basis is the logarithm. John Napier, another of Edinburgh’s citizens may have considered his mathematics as just a ‘hobby’, but he is best known today for his invention of logarithms. Logarithms were in the day an astounding development in the manipulation of numbers and made calculations by hand easier, quicker, and opened the way to many scientific and engineering advances including Astronomy, Physics and of course Radar.
Theory and nomenclature aside it is Robert Watson-Watt (born 20 Km from Dundee, who received his engineering degree in Dundee, and who spent his early career teaching in and around Dundee’s technical institutions) who is widely credited (with central colleagues) as the drive behind the first Radar stations able to detect non-cooperative targets and it is historically correct that the first radio detection and ranging demonstration was carried out in the UK on the 17th June 1935.
So the next time someone asks what Scotland has to do with Radar you will be able to tell them we played our part!