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Naman Pujari

Due 05/08/17


One of the biggest reasons as to why todays era is called modern, is due to the great strides that
engineering has taken across the past few centuries. Radio waves one of these great strides, and are used
practically everywhere. From your handheld devices to smart identification systems, the presence of radio
waves has done nothing but provided an excellent medium of communication from one source to another.
Perhaps one of the most ground-breaking discoveries of the modern age was that of electromagnetic
radiation (EM radiation). Theorized by James Clerk Maxwell, the phenomenon was first empirically proven
by Heinrich Hertz. In his famous experiment, Hertz produced radio waves and thus concluded that
electromagnetic waves are radiated by accelerated charged particles. Understanding the physics of radio
communication first requires the holistic understanding of electric current and magnetism. As it is
commonly known, there are two types of current. The first is Direct Current, in which electrons travel in
a one-directional fashion: from the negative terminal of a battery to the positive terminal. In such cases a
constant magnetic field is produced around the wires, but no waves are produced. The only way
electromagnetic waves are produced are by the means of Alternating Current. Alternating current (AC)
current sources have the ability of constantly changing the direction of current, making it travel in a bi-
directional fashion. The current is hence analogous an oscillating spring; it constantly changes its
acceleration and direction. Figure 1 provides detailed
insight into the mechanism of AC circuits. Due to the
changing nature of the current, the magnetic field
produced by it also changes in magnitude. This is what
provides the propagation source that an electromagnetic
field needs. By changing the frequency at which the
current alternates, it is possible to change the frequency
of the waves. (Walker et al.) This phenomenon is
extremely useful as it creates the distinction between all
the types of EM waves in Maxwells Rainbow. Radio
waves are EM waves with the lowest frequency and
highest wavelength, and hence are not as powerful as
the other types of radiation. Gamma radiation, for
example, is extremely harmful to the human body due
to its extremely high frequency, but radio waves are not.
When it comes to communication between two parties, it is essential that the signal between them is encoded
with some sort of information. When the first radio waves were experimentally devised, the problem was
that these waves provided unintelligible information; there was no way to encode a message through these
waves. The solution to this (and an often-overlooked solution) is in the form of wave modulation. There
are two primary types of wave
modulations: amplitude modulation
(AM), and frequency modulation
(FM). As seen in Figure 2, amplitude
modulation is done by changing the
amplitude of transmitted radio waves
to match the audio signal that it is
transferring. For example, the radio
waves of a DJ would be modulated in
Naman Pujari
Due 05/08/17

such a manner that the peak

amplitudes of the AM signal match
the amplitude at which the DJ speaks.
Although AM is less practical due to
various factors (and hence less used),
it does have the advantage of being
able to travel extremely long
distances. This is the primary reason
it the type of modulation that plane
radios are compatible with.
Frequency modulation is achieved by
changing the frequency (or amount of
cycles of a sine/cosine wave in a
second) according to the type of
information it transmits.
(HowStuffWorks) In Figure 3 the
encoding process on both types of modulations can be observed. It turns out that radio waves also carry
information in a binary fashion, with information sent through 1s and 0s. (Northwestern University)
There are three main paths encoded radio waves can take during their travel from transmitter to receiver
(See Figure 4 for reference):

The first is the obvious line of sight

trajectory, in which the transmitter shoots
wave straight towards the desired receiver.
This, however, can only be achieved when
both the transmitter and receiver are
located on very high communication
towers; any sort of hill or other physical
obstacle can absorb the energy of the radio
The second is known as a ground wave this path follows the curvature of the Earth. AM waves
tend to travel this way. This also explains why we can receive information from transmitter when
both parties are not in clear sight of each other.
Waves can also bounce of the ionosphere, greatly increasing the distance it can travel. (Lucas)

Antennas: Youve seen them, but never knew how they worked
An antenna is essentially a conductive rod that can respond to the EM waves it feels. You may even
create a makeshift antenna using a long piece of metal. The sole purpose of an antenna is to be able to
transmit and/or receive electromagnetic waves. This can be achieved even in simple metallic rods
because you can run an alternating current through them. Parabolic antennas, like large dish antennas
observed in NASA are shaped the way they are to maximize gain, or the amount of power it can provide
to its communication system. The alternating current that is produced in antennas due to the EM
radiation they experience is converted to electrical energy in the form of running charge. Demodulators
then decode the information send through radio waves and make them comprehensible to, say, a radio.
Naman Pujari
Due 05/08/17


Woodford, C. (2017, March 5). How do antennas and transmitters work? Retrieved May 07, 2017, from

How Radio Works. (2000, December 07). Retrieved May 07, 2017, from

How the Radio Spectrum Works. (2000, April 01). Retrieved May 07, 2017, from

Lucas, J. (2015, April 06). What Are Radio Waves? Retrieved May 07, 2017, from

Northwestern University. (n.d.). Communications System. Retrieved May 07, 2017, from