Appleton Event

AppletonEdward Victor Appleton was born in Bradford on 6th September 1892.  His father was a warehouseman for a woollen manufacturer. Edward attended Hanson Grammar School and initially worked as a laboratory technician at Bradford Technical College from 1909 to 1911.  In 1911 he was awarded a scholarship at St John’s College, Cambridge where he read Natural Sciences with Physics.  He graduated with First Class Honours in 1913 but with the onset of the Great War he joined the West Riding Regiment and later transferred to the Royal Engineers.  After the war he returned to Cambridge and by 1920 he was appointed as assistant demonstrator in experimental physics at the Cavendish Laboratory under Earnest Rutherford FRS, Cavendish Professor of Physics and Sir J J Thompson.

It was during this period that he and some colleagues began to investigate the variation of the strength of medium wave broadcast signals between day and night, a phenomenon that was not understood and caused problems in the early days of wireless communications.  Appleton devised some ingenious experimental methods to show that the variation arose because of interference between the “ground wave” and a second wave reflected from a layer of ionised air around 60 miles above the earth’s surface, the so-called ionosphere.  Appleton’s discovery paved the way for further extensive research and it was soon apparent that the ionosphere was not just a single layer but had several components at different heights and subject to great changes between day and night and with the seasons.  The higher and more intensely-ionised “F-layer” at around 200 miles is often called the Appleton Layer and is responsible for much long-distance short-wave communication.  Some of Appleton’s novel techniques for measuring the height of the ionospheric layers by sending pulses of radio signals had direct application to the vital work on radar and were later adapted by Robert Watson-Watt to measure the distance of aeroplanes.

In 1924 Appleton moved to King’s College, London where he was Professor of Physics.  He finally returned to Cambridge in 1936 and with the outbreak of World War Two he joined DSIR to advise Government on scientific work. He was awarded a knighthood in 1941 for his war services.  In 1949 he became Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh University, a post he held until his death in 1965.  He was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1947 in recognition of his work on the ionosphere and for the ideas which led to the development of radar.


Otley Amateur Radio Society chose to honour Sir Edward Appleton for his services to radio communication and as an example of high achiever born to modest parents in 19th century Bradford, which was then one of the wealthiest and most dynamic industrial cities in England.  Indeed, Bradford became known as the “Wool Capital of the World”. We will held a special event station on the 10th September 2016.

As part of the British Scientists Amateur Radio Awards scheme, Otley Amateur Radio Society chose:

British Scientists Amateur Radio Awards 2016

Picture and biography courtesy of Nobel foundation –