Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin (1858-1935)
Columbia's Old Library building |
Click here for more campus photos.
Do you know who Michael Pupin was? He was the first American
physicist/engineer who knew how to use Maxwell's equations in
- Mihajla Pupin was born in Serbia and came to the United States when
he was a teenager, in 1874. He started his career as a farm worker
in Delaware and a factory worker in New York before entering Columbia
College in 1879.
Serbians in the United States become very happy whenever I mention Nikola Tesla and Michael Pupin. They both came from Serbia. Here are my photos with Serbians.
- Serbian Shop Owner who owns and manages a necktie store at New York's Penn Station shopping hall. He became so happy and impressed that he gave be an extra gift when I bought a necktie carrying the picture of the Sistine Chapel (2009).
- Serbian Student working at his store. She became very happy when I told her I have a webpage dedicated to Nikola Tesla. She said she is studying electrical engineering in order to become the second Tesla. She then asked me to include this photo in my Tesla page (2006). I bought a tie carrying a portrait of Egyptian Pharaoh. I look authoritative whenever I wear this tie.
- Tiecoon is the name of this Necktie shop. I go to New York often, and I have to pass through this shop to reach the street from the railroad platform. Here is a photo of the shop without me.
- While studying electrical engineering at Columbia, Pupin became
interested in Maxwell's equations. After graduation in 1983, he went to
Cambridge, England in order to work under James Clerk Maxwell in 1883.
Alas, when he arrived at Cambridge, he found out Maxwell died four years
earlier in 1979. This was the reality of trans-Atlantic communication
at that time. There has been some improvement since then.
He then went to Berlin to study under Hermann von Helmholtz. As you know, Helmholtz started out as a physician. While he was a medical doctor, he formulated the law of conservation of energy. He then studied physics. He was particularly interested in wave equations.
This is the base of Helmholtz's statue
at Humboltd University in Berlin. The statue was under reconstruction
when I went there in 1999, but Helmholtz's name is clearly seen.
- Helmholtz was of course a great physicisit, but I wonder why Pupin
did not go to Koenigsberg. Koenigberg was the bastion of Maxwell's
equations at that time. Both Hermann Minkowski and Arnold Sommerfeld
studied there. You may click here
for recent photos from Koenigsberg which became a Russian
city of Kaliningrad after World War II.
One possibility is that those high priests at Koenigsberg never heard of Columbia College in America, and did not consider Pupin's application. Some Europeans still carry this kind of mentality. It is also possible that Pupin thought Koenigsberg was too mathematical. In either case, Pupin made the right choice.
- Heinrich Hertz was Helmholtz's student. He received his PhD degree in
1880,and remained in Berlin as an assistant to Helmholtz for three
years. He went to the Univ. of Kiel in 1883, and then to Karlsruhe
in 1885 as a full professor. There, Hertz discovered Maxwell's
electromagnetic waves during the period 1887-88. This happened
while Pupin was still in Berlin.
- After finishing his doctoral degree in Berlin, Pupin came back to
Columbia in 1889, and started teaching Maxwell's equations to
American students. He had one creative student named Edwin Howard
In electronic circuits, there are components, such as capacitors, inductance coils, as well vacuum tubes (transistors). It is not trivial to produce those components. However, it is all together a new problem to connect all those component to produce useful devices. During the early stage of wireless communication, it was relatively simple to produce amplitude-modulated transmitters, but it was very difficult to pick up weak radio signals and convert them into audible sounds.
- Edwin Howard Armstrong made the following history-making
- He first developed a circuit which amplifies audio frequencies
using the triode vacuum tube which was invented by
Lee de Forest.
- Armstrong then used the same principle to amplify incoming
- He developed a circuit which performs
[cos A] [cos B]
= (1/2)[cos(A + B) + cos(A - B)] ,
- He first developed a circuit which amplifies audio frequencies using the triode vacuum tube which was invented by Lee de Forest.
and invented the superheterodyne system for radio receivers.
In addition, he developed many other useful circuits. Indeed, Armstrong is regarded as the father of American electronics.
However, he did not manage his intellectual properties well, and most of his inventions were stolen by others. Edwn Howard Armstrong (1890-1954) had to terminate his own life. The early history of American electrical/electronic industry is very ugly, starting from the feud between Edison and Tesla.
Quite rightly, Columbia's physics building is named after Pupin, and his bust is at the entrance of the building. Let us look at some campus photos.
- Physics Building,
called "Pupin Physics Laboratories."
- Columbia Campus and
New York City.
- Trinity Church. Columbia started out as King's College located near this church in downtown during the colonial period. After the Independence, it became Columbia College. The campus moved to a place at the 49th Street on Madison Avenue in 1857. Columbia College moved to the present location in 1896. Thereafter, Columbia College became Columbia University.
- Isidore Isaac Rabi and nuclear magnetic resonace (1945).
- Hideki Yukawa spent three years at Columbia (1950-52) after receiving 1949 Nobel prize in physics.
- Willis Lamb did his Lamb shift experiment at Columbia(1955).
- Tsung Dao Lee and Chien Shiung Wu did their parity violation theory and experiment (1956).
- Steven Weinberg spent his early years at Columbia, after his PhD degree from Princeton in 1957.
- Gian-Carlo Wick spent his final years at Columbia before returning to Italy.
- Jack Steinberger spent 38 years at Columbia from 1950-88. He did many interesting experiments there including his Prize-winning neutrino experiment.
I am not in a position to make a complete list of all important contributions from Columbia. If you think some other people should be added to this list, please email me (email@example.com).
In 1958, I had to choose my graduate school. Columbia was very nice to me, It offered a financial package twice as big at the one I received from Princeton. It was very difficult to choose Princeton and abandon Columbia. The major factors were, in addition to Wigner, Wheeler, and Einstein (deceased), my Korean backgrounds.
- I am not too religious, and I often get into arguments with clergy people, but
my Presbyterian background is strong. Princeton was known to be a
Presbyterian-oriented school. My PhD diploma (in Latin) says I am morally
perfect. I am doing my best to be consistent with what my Princeton
diploma says about me.
- Syngman Rhee was Woodrow Wilson's student and got his PhD degree in 1910. He became the first president of South Korea in 1948. He was equipped with all the evils politicians should have, and took over the country which could make only ox carts. Obama these days are telling American auto workers to compete with their Korean counterparts. You would agree that Syngman Rhee had a foresight.
Even though I never regretted the decision I made in 1958, I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I had gone to Columbia for my graduate study.
In addition, I strongly believe Michael Pupin should be included in Maxwell's genealogy because he connected Maxwell's equations to electronics. I think I belong to the Maxwell-Wigner genealogy. He is therefore my relative, and I am happy to show you my photo with him.
Click here for more photos of Columbia campus and New York City.
Y. S. Kim (March 2009)
Click here for other interesting articles.