Making A Crystodyne Radio With Zinc Oxide And Cat’s Whiskers

Zinc negative resistance oscillator circuit. (Credit: Ashish Derhgawen)
Zinc negative resistance oscillator circuit. (Credit: Ashish Derhgawen)

During the first half of the 20th century radio technology was booming, albeit restricted by the vacuum tube technology of the time which made radios cumbersome in size and power needs. The development of a solid state alternative to the vacuum tube was in full swing, but the first version pioneered by [Oleg Losev] in the form of crystal radios failed to compete. Even so these ‘crystal radios’ laid much of the groundwork for subsequent research. The ease of creating this type of radio also makes it a fun physics experiment today, as [Ashish Derhgawen]  demonstrates in a blog post.

In the January 1925 issue of Radio News the theory  of the circuit is explained by [Oleg Losev] himself (page 1167). At the core is a material capable of negative resistance, as a non-linear (non-Ohmic) material, which means that the current passing through them decreases as voltage increases over part of their I-V curve. This enables it to work as an amplifier or oscillator. After the cessation of research on crystal radio technology by [Losev] and others, the negative resistance diode was rediscovered in 1957 with the tunnel diode.

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Do You Know Oleg Losev? An Engineer Tragically Ahead Of His Time

It is so often the case with a particular technological advance, that it will be invented almost simultaneously by more than one engineer or scientist. People seem to like a convenient tale of a single inventor, so one such person is remembered while the work of all the others who trod the same path is more obscure. Sometimes the name we are familiar with simply managed to reach a patent office first, maybe they were the inventor whose side won their war, or even they could have been a better self-publicist.

When there are close competitors for the crown of inventor then you might just have heard of them, after all they will often feature in the story that grows up around the invention. But what about someone whose work happened decades before the unrelated engineer who replicated it and who the world knows as the inventor? They are simply forgotten, waiting in an archive for someone to perhaps discover them and set the record straight.

Oleg Losev (Public domain)
[Oleg Losev] (Public domain)
Meet [Oleg Losev]. He created the first practical light-emitting diodes and the first semiconductor amplifiers in 1920s Russia, and published his results. Yet the world has never heard of him and knows the work of unrelated American scientists in the period after the Second World War as the inventors of those technologies. His misfortune was to born in the wrong time and place, and to be the victim of some of the early twentieth century’s more turbulent history.

[Oleg Losev] was born in 1903, the son of a retired Russian Imperial Army officer. After the Russian Revolution he was denied the chance of a university education, so worked as a technician first at the Nizhny Novgorod Radio laboratory, and later at the Central Radio Laboratory in Leningrad. There despite his  relatively lowly position he was able to pursue his research interest in semiconductors, and to make his discoveries.

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