TESLA: Electricity - controversy - innovation - artistic inspiration, a salute
7/11/2009 by: Darleen Hartley
You can thank Nikola Tesla whenever you listen to the radio, have an x-ray, tweet on Twitter, click that remote control, or sit under the light of a neon moon sipping a beer. Born on July 10 in what is now Croatia, Tesla studied, thought, worked, and invented on both sides of the Atlantic, dying in New York in 1943.
After college in 1881, Tesla began his career at age 25 as an electrical engineer with a phone company in Budapest. Then, he worked for Continental Edison Company in Paris, where he designed dynamos. While on the continent, he hit upon a solution to the rotating magnetic field, the principle of the induction motor. He privately built and ran a prototype of what has become today’s most common electric motor. Hoping to find acceptance of his idea, Tesla emigrated to New York where he worked for Thomas Edison. However, he found fault with Edison’s direct current (DC) electrical designs, believing that alternating currents (AC) were better, as he saw all energies as cyclical. He eventually obtained numerous patents implementing this theory.
Tesla adapted the principle of the rotating magnetic field for the construction of alternating current induction motors and the polyphase system for the generation, transmission, distribution and use of electrical power. Fulfilling a childhood ambition, he designed the first hydroelectric power plant in Niagara Falls in 1895, and went on to pioneer in several fields, including the fluorescent light, and the laser beam. He is credited with the basics of wireless communications, remote controls, and robotics.
An early environmentalist, he suggested harnessing the power of the sea and the sun. In 1931, he wanted to reduce the pollution from power plant chimneys by using wind power, solar power, and geothermal power. However, he opposed atomic power stating it was “unscientific and illusionary and cannot be condemned too emphatically.”
In 1899, in retrospect, he proved himself a visionary, with his idea that "One person has only to look into the receiver of an ordinary telephone in one city and while talking to a friend a thousand miles away, he can watch the expression on the other’s face." Sound familiar?
He also believed there was intelligent life beyond Earth. He envisioned interplanetary communications, and satellites. Tesla stated that “..there would be no great difficulty in recording signals transmitted to us by the inhabitants of that planet [Mars].” And SETI awaits.
Tesla was brilliant, but eccentric. He admitted to having sometimes debilitating obsessive-compulsive behavior. He also exhibited a tendency towards excessive cleanliness and fear of germs, similar to the affliction suffered by Howard Hughes. Neither stopped his inventive spirit.
Tesla designed and built coils that pumped up ordinary household voltage to hundreds of thousands of volts. His coil generated high frequencies and high voltages. Tesla Coil voltages can get to be well above 1,000,000 volts and are discharged in the form of electrical arcs, similar in appearance to lightening.
Tesla continued to make improvements and variations on the same theme. He received multiple patents in this genre, as evidenced by U.S. Patent 0,649,621, Apparatus for Transmission of Electrical Energy. The Tesla Coil is widely used in radio and television sets. He was finally decreed to be the father of the radio, supplanting Marconi’s patent when the Supreme Court noted that Tesla had patented the basic system in 1896, based on four tuned circuits for transmitting and receiving.
David "Dave" Archer, brilliant Tesla coil painter. Photo courtesy of Billy Hustace
A world-renown artist uses a version of the Tesla coil to produce paintings that are “out of this world.” Dave Archer uses a technique of reverse glass painting to create scenes of mystical outer space. The coils which are specifically geared to his painting efforts, are designed and constructed by Bill Wysock, a master Tesla-coil engineer, who also has produced special lightning effects for Hollywood movies. Archer says of his technique: "Ron Russell (who taught me glass painting) and I, did not set out to paint space art on glass, or paint with electricity. We were simply experimenting, and some of our experiments tended toward space dimensions --- and we liked the effect."
Sanctuary by David Archer... painted by using a "tesla coil"...
With a hand-held wand, Archer manipulates million volt arcs to influence highly conductive water paints on pieces of glass, forming clouds of wispy colors. He then paints planets, comets, and an occasional hidden unicorn by hand against the backdrop. His paintings have appeared in Star Trek, at the Planetarium in Brussels, in San Francisco’s deYoung Museum, on the book cover of Fantasy by Isaac Asimov, and in international art galleries. Tesla, the electrical genius, would be amazed by Dave Archer’s artistic use of his famous coil.
Over the years, Nikola Tesla has been applauded by scientists, and been repeatedly recognized for his achievements, unfortunately not all during his lifetime. He received the Edison Medal, the most coveted electrical prize in the United States and his name was given to an international unit of magnetic flux. A US postal stamp bears his image, and a statue of Tesla stands near Niagara Falls. The Inventor’s Hall of Fame inducted him into their ranks, and the Institute of Electrical Engineers created the Nikola Tesla Award in his honor.
Accolades come late for many, and not unlike other brilliant men, Tesla died forgotten, penniless, and alone. The injured park pigeons he had rescued and nurtured were left to fend for themselves as he had had to himself in his last years.
In memoriam, Tesla’s birth town of Smiljan in Croatia has created a memorial and theme park at the site of his childhood home. Nikola Tesla rests elsewhere, his ashes within a golden sphere, on display with his death mask, at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade.
Nikola Tesla, Tesla Coil, Belgrade, Croatia, Lika, Smiljan, voltage, Dave Archer, painting, space, Isaac Asimov, de Young Museum, patent, radio, Marconi, Edison, Paris, Niagara Falls, Twitter, remote control, robot, electrical, electricity, Howard Hughes, Ron Russell, Star Trek, Brussels, New York, pigeons
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