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Nikola Tesla: The light man

26 Februar 2015 No Comment

(Illustration: Anastasiia Slobodianiuk)

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine”

von Francesca Moral

In the year 1915, a Reuters news agency falsely announced the Nobel Prize in Physics would be awarded to Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison. An honest mistake, the suggestion was almost cruel, considering the ongoing “Battle of Currents“ between Thomas Edison, on the DC side, and George Westinghouse, with the help of Nikola Tesla’s patents, on the AC side.

Nowadays, almost every home, business, and public space uses. However, the change from DC to AC did not happen very quickly. In the late 1880s, an array of inventions caused the famous “Battle of the Currents”, between alternating current and direct current distribution. Around those years, DC could not be easily converted to high voltages. As a consequence, Thomas Edison proposed building small power plants to power individual neighborhoods or sections of a city. However, these power plants had to be located within a mile of the end user, which made power distribution in rural areas extremely difficult. The purchase of Nikola Tesla’s patents for AC motors and transmission by George Westinghouse, a famous industrialist, was a major turning point in this battle. With the help of Tesla’s patents, Westinghouse improved the AC distribution system. As a result, large power plants could be located many miles away and benefit a greater number of people.

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 to Serbian parents in the village of Smiljan, in contemporary Croatia. The journey of the inventor, physicist, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer began when he contracted cholera at the age of 17. He spent nine months in bed and was near death on various occasions. Out of desperation, his father promised to send him to the best school of engineering if he recovered from the life-threatening illness. It should be noted at this point that Nikola Tesla had his heart set on becoming an engineer since his early years, but was constantly oppressed by his father’s wish that his only son become a priest, just like him. Tesla recovered some time later and his father fulfilled his wish of becoming an engineer.

Tesla enrolled at the Austrian Polytechnic, located in the city of Graz, in the year 1875. He was an excellent student. However, he developed a gambling addiction in his second year of studies that cost him his scholarship. He never graduated and left university in the year 1878. After dropping out of the university, Tesla decided to severe all kinds of relationship with his family to hide his failure.

After doing small jobs in Slovenia, he was sent back to his family because he lacked a residence permit. Later, he moved to the city of Budapest to work for the Budapest Telephone Exchange. He was given the chief electrician position and made improvements to the Central Station equipment.

Tesla’s life continued to be dictated by moves across countries and even continents. In the year 1882, he began working for the Continental Edison Company in France. He moved to New York City two years later to work at the Edison Machine Works. In 1885, Edison was having problems with his direct current (DC) generators and motors, so Tesla offered not only to repair, but to redesign them. Edison agreed and offered to pay him fifty thousand dollars if he could do it. Tesla managed to fix the machines. When he asked Edison for the money he had promised him, Edison laughed and told Tesla that he didn’t understand the “American humor”. However, Edison offered him a US$10 a week raise. A deeply disappointed Tesla refused the offer and resigned immediately.

The next year saw the establishment of Tesla Electric Company. Tesla worked on his very successful alternating current electrical system. This put him on the “AC” side of the famous “War of Currents”, causing a never-ending feud between him and Edison. Edison tried to discredit Tesla by publicly electrocuting cats and dogs using alternate current. With this, he hoped to convince the public that Tesla’s AC system was too dangerous for domestic use. However, his plan didn’t work. The Westinghouse Corporation subsequently won the bid to illuminate the Chicago World’s Fair, the first all-electric fair in history. For the millions of visitors to the fair, it was undoubtedly clear that the power of the future was AC.

At the age of 35, Tesla became a naturalized citizen of the United States and established two laboratories in New York. A couple of years later, Tesla began experimenting with X-rays and radio waves. His experiments with radio waves built the basis for the invention of the radio.In his later years, Tesla kept experimenting and working on his many inventions. He also wrote a treatise entitled The Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media, which concerned charged particle beam weapons.

Nikola Tesla, the great inventor, the (by own choice) celibate man who could speak eight languages and memorize entire books, died at the age of 86 on January 7, 1943, alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel, the place he had previously taken as his residence.

Even though Nikola Tesla invented many great devices, and even laid the basis for many other revolutionary inventions, he was never rich or famous. He never did it for the recognition or the money. Truth be told, the “light man” did everything merely for the love of science.

Electricity flows in two ways: either in an alternating current (AC) or in a direct current (DC). The difference between AC and DC resides in the direction in which electricity flows. In DC, electricity flows only in one direction, or forward. In AC, electricity switches directions, going from forward to backward, and then from backward to forward. AC is used to power houses, businesses, and public spaces. DC is used on everything that operates with batteries, plugs in to walls with an AC adapter, or uses a USB cable for power. AC can transfer electricity over long distances and can provide more power. DC, however, cannot travel far distances because it loses energy.

 

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