Oral-History:Ralph M. Showers
About Ralph M. Showers
Electromagnetic pioneer Ralph M. Showers recalls a childhood fascination with electronics, specifically trains. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1918, his family relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of two because of a job offer his father received from the city’s school system. Upon graduating high school in 1935, Showers enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating four years later with a degree in electrical engineering.
Showers remembers collegiate teaching as his initial aspiration, yet life in a new, enigmatic field would not prove so neat. Soon, he found himself conducting research during World War II, and briefly working for General Electric. During the war Showers worked on communications systems in the radio interference business. Located in the now famous Moore School, where scientists were working seemingly around the clock on the development of ENIAC, fears of enemy access consumed the environment under which Showers worked during the war. Additionally, while performing this work for the government, he continued to work towards completion of his PhD as well. His PhD examined the measurements of resistance for high frequencies. Showers also worked for the Interference Reduction Panel of the Research and Development Board, while completing his doctorate. Before completing the PhD, the University of Pennsylvania hired Showers as an assistant professor.
From 1955-7 Showers chaired the IRE’s Committee 27 Radio Frequency Interference, a group aimed toward standardizing the measurements of radio interference. Throughout his career he has seen concerns transform and become more sophisticated as the field of electronics itself has become more advanced. In addition to the level of sophistication, Showers also views globalization as a major influence on electromagnetics. After World War II, exchanges across the Atlantic increased. Eventually in the 1970s, Europeans and American divided up work in the electromagnetic field. Each concentrated on different problems.
In recent years, even though standardizing the electromagnetic field has become internationalized, ironically, it is a lack of cooperation by the military, which was indispensable to early development, which represents major obstacle. Organizations like NATO have their own standards, which do not necessarily coincide with the IEEE. Asian countries are also much more involved in the process of standardizing the field. The establishment of the European Union and their excitement regarding electromagnetic funding is further evidence of the international effort. Technological developments like personal computers and cell phones have required those in the field to rewrite new standards, both in Europe and the United States. Energy efficiency is also a main concern for pioneers like Showers, who estimates that standardizing global methods could cost as much as $50 billion to correct worldwide. Concerns aside, Showers feels that the field has moved in a positive direction and will continue to do so.
About the Interview
RALPH M. SHOWERS:An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 3 December 2003
Interview #429 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Ralph M. Showers, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 2003 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
Interview: Ralph M. Showers
Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker
Date: 3 December 2003
Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania