Monday, August 24, 2009
Nikola Tesla: Master of Lightening
Born an ethnic Serb in the village of Smiljan, Vojna Krajina, in the territory of today's Croatia, Tesla was a subject of the Austrian Empire by birth and later became an American citizen. After his demonstration of wireless communication through radio in 1894 and after being the victor in the "War of Currents", he was widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. During this period, in the United States, Tesla's fame rivaled that of any other inventor or scientist in history or popular culture, but
due to his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist.
 Tesla never put much focus on his finances. It is said he died impoverished, at the age of 86.
Aside from his work on electromagnetism and electromechanical engineering, Tesla contributed in varying degrees to the establishment of robotics, remote control, radar and computer science, and to the expansion of ballistics, nuclear physics, and theoretical physics. In 1943, the Supreme Court of the United States credited him as being the inventor of the radio. A few of his achievements have been used, with some controversy, to support various pseudosciences, UFO theories, and early New Age occultism.
During his early life, Tesla was stricken with illness time and time again. He suffered a peculiar affliction in which blinding flashes of light would appear before his eyes, often accompanied by hallucinations. Much of the time the visions were linked to a word or idea he might have come across; just by hearing the name of an item, he would involuntarily envision it in realistic detail. Modern-day synesthetes report similar symptoms. Tesla would visualise an invention in his brain with extreme precision, including all dimensions, before moving to the construction stage; a technique sometimes known as picture thinking. He typically did not make drawings by hand, instead just conceiving all ideas with his mind. Tesla also often had flashbacks to events that had happened previously in his life; this began to happen during childhood.
On 6 June 1884, Tesla first arrived in the US in New York City with little besides a letter of recommendation from Charles Batchelor, a former employer. In the letter of recommendation to Thomas Edison, Batchelor wrote, "I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man." Edison hired Tesla to work for his Edison Machine Works. Tesla's work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving some of the company's most difficult problems. Tesla was even offered the task of completely redesigning the Edison company's direct current generators.
Tesla claims he was offered US$50,000 (~ US$1.1 million in 2007, adjusted for inflation) if he redesigned Edison's inefficient motor and generators, making an improvement in both service and economy.:54–57 Tesla said he worked night and day on the project and gave the Edison Company several profitable new patents in the process. In 1885 when Tesla inquired about the payment for his work, Edison replied, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor," thus breaking his word. Earning a mere US$18 per week, Tesla would have had to work for 53 years to earn the amount he was promised. The offer was equal to the initial capital of the company. Tesla then immediately resigned when he was refused a raise to US$25 per week.
Tesla, in need of work, eventually found himself digging ditches for a short period of time for the Edison company. He saw the manual labor as such a terrible job, but Tesla used this time to focus on his AC polyphase system.
In 1886, Tesla formed his own company, Tesla Electric Light & Manufacturing. The initial financial investors disagreed with Tesla on his plan for an alternating current motor and eventually relieved him of his duties at the company. Tesla worked in New York as a common laborer from 1886 to 1887 to feed himself and raise capital for his next project. In 1887, he constructed the initial brushless alternating current induction motor, which he demonstrated to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (now IEEE) in 1888. In the same year, he developed the principles of his Tesla coil and began working with George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company's Pittsburgh labs. Westinghouse listened to his ideas for polyphase systems which would allow transmission of alternating current electricity over long distances.
In April 1887, Tesla began investigating what would later be called X-rays using his own single node vacuum tubes (similar to his patent #514,170). This device differed from other early X-ray tubes in that they had no target electrode. The modern term for the phenomenon produced by this device is bremsstrahlung (or braking radiation). We now know that this device operated by emitting electrons from the single electrode through a combination of field electron emission and thermionic emission. Once liberated, electrons are strongly repelled by the high electric field near the electrode during negative voltage peaks from the oscillating HV output of the Tesla Coil, generating X-rays as they collide with the glass envelope. He also used Geissler tubes. By 1892, Tesla became aware of the skin damage that Wilhelm Röntgen later identified as an effect of X-rays.
On 30 July 1891, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States at the age of 35. Tesla established his 35 South Fifth Avenue laboratory in New York during this same year. Later, Tesla would establish his Houston Street laboratory in New York at 46 E. Houston Street. There, at one point while conducting mechanical resonance experiments with electro-mechanical oscillators he generated a resonance of several surrounding buildings but, due to the frequencies involved, not his own building, causing complaints to the police. As the speed grew he hit the resonant frequency of his own building and,
belatedly realizing the danger, he was forced to apply a sledgehammer to terminate the experiment, just as the astonished police arrived.
He also lit vacuum tubes wirelessly at both of the New York locations, providing evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission.
In 1899, Tesla decided to move and began research in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he would have room for his high-voltage, high-frequency experiments. Upon his arrival he told reporters that he was conducting wireless telegraphy experiments transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris. Tesla's diary contains explanations of his experiments concerning the ionosphere and the ground's telluric currents via transverse waves and longitudinal waves. At his lab, Tesla proved that the earth was a conductor, and he produced artificial lightning (with discharges consisting of millions of volts, and up to 135 feet long). Tesla also investigated atmospheric electricity, observing lightning signals via his receivers. Reproductions of Tesla's receivers and coherer circuits show an unpredicted level of complexity (e.g., distributed high-Q helical resonators, radio frequency feedback, crude heterodyne effects, and regeneration techniques).
Tesla may have suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, and had many unusual quirks and phobias. He did things in threes, and was adamant about staying in a hotel room with a number divisible by three. Tesla was also noted to be physically revolted by jewelry, notably pearl earrings. He was fastidious about cleanliness and hygiene, and was by all accounts mysophobic.
Tesla was obsessed with pigeons, ordering special seeds for the pigeons he fed in Central Park and even bringing some into his hotel room with him. Tesla was an animal-lover, often reflecting contentedly about a childhood cat, "The Magnificent Macak." Tesla never married. He was celibate and claimed that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities. Nonetheless there have been numerous accounts of women vying for Tesla's affection, even some madly in love with him. Tesla, though polite, behaved rather ambivalently to these women in the romantic sense.
Tesla was prone to alienating himself and was generally soft-spoken. However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of him. Robert Underwood Johnson described him as attaining a "distinguished sweetness, sincerity, modesty, refinement, generosity, and force." His loyal secretary, Dorothy Skerrit, wrote: "his genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul." Tesla's friend Hawthorne wrote that "seldom did one meet a scientist or engineer who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and drink."
Close friend, Mark Twain in Tesla's lab.
Tesla was widely known for his great showmanship, presenting his innovations and demonstrations to the public as an artform, almost like a magician. This seems to conflict with his observed reclusiveness; Tesla was a complicated figure.
He refused to hold conventions without his Tesla coil blasting electricity throughout the room, despite the audience often being terrified, though he assured them everything was perfectly safe.
Tesla died of heart failure alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel, on 7 January 1943. Despite having sold his AC electricity patents, Tesla died with significant debts on the books.
#2 ^ "Electrical pioneer Tesla honoured". BBC News. 2006-07-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5167054.stm. Retrieved 2009-08-15.
#3 ^ "Nikola Tesla - electrical engineer and inventor". Serbian Unity Congress. http://www.serbianunity.net/people/tesla/index.html. Retrieved 2009-08-15.#4 ^ Valone, T. Harnessing the Wheelwork of Nature: Tesla's Science of Energy. Adventures Unlimited Press. pp. 102. ISBN 1931882045.
# 5^ Childress, David Hatcher (ed.) (2000). The Tesla Papers: Nikola Tesla on Free Energy & Wireless Transmission of Power. Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press. ISBN 0932813860.#6 ^ Robert Lomas (1999-08-21). "Spark of genius". Independent Magazine. http://www.robertlomas.com/Tesla/Independent_Article.html. Retrieved 2008-07-29.# 7^ White MJ (2001). Rivals: conflict as the fuel of science. London: Secker & Warburg. pp. 174. ISBN 0-436-20463-0.#8 ^ Cheney M (2001). Tesla : Man Out of Time. New York, NY: Touchstone. ISBN 0-7432-1536-2.#9 U.S. Supreme Court, "Marconi Wireless Telegraph co. of America v. United States". 320 U.S. 1. Nos. 369, 373. Argued 9–12 April 1943. Decided 21 June 1943.#22 Cheney, Margaret (2001) . Tesla: Man Out of Time. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0743215362. http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0743215362&id=ti2Jt7XarzMC. Retrieved 2007-06-17.#26 ^ "Master of Lightning" by Public Broadcasting Service. Website#27 ^ "Tesla Says Edison was an Empiricist. Electrical Technician Declares Persistent Trials Attested Inventor's Vigor. 'His Method Inefficient' A Little Theory Would Have Saved Him 90% of Labor, Ex-Aide Asserts. Praises His Great Genius.". New York Times. 19 October 1931. "Nikola Tesla, one of the world's outstanding electrical technicians, who came to America in 1884 to work with Thomas A. Edison, specifically in the designing of motors and generators, recounted yesterday some of ..."#28 ^ http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ Adjusting the reported given amount of money for inflation, the US$50,000 in 1885 would equal US$1,140,112.60 in 2007#29 ^ Clifford A. Pickover, Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen. HarperCollins, 1999. 352 pages. P. 14. ISBN 0688168949#30 ^ "My Inventions" by Nikola Tesla, printed in Electrical Experimenter Feb–June, 1919. Reprinted, edited by Ben Johnson, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1982. ISBN# 31^ Jonnes,"Empire of light" p. 110#55 ^ O'Neill, "Prodigal Genius" pp 162–164#56 ^ Krumme, Katherine, Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla: Thunder and Lightning. 4 December 2000#63 ^ Tesla, Nikola, "The True Wireless". Electrical Experimenter, May 1919. (also at pbs.org)#64 ^ Gillispie, Charles Coulston, "Dictionary of Scientific Biography"; Tesla, Nikola. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. ISBN#65 ^ Corum, K. L., J. F. Corum, and A. H. Aidinejad, "Atmospheric Fields, Tesla's Receivers and Regenerative Detectors". 1994.#93 ^ Kerryr.net#100 ^ "Nikola Tesla Dies. Prolific Inventor. Alternating Power Current's Developer Found Dead in Hotel Suite Here. Claimed a 'Death Beam'. He Insisted the Invention Could Annihilate an Army of 1,000,000 at Once.". New York Times. 8 January 1943, Friday.