Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Maverick for Science: Nikola Tesla

I never heard of this name when I was a kid. I can barely remember when I first heard his name. Must have stumbled upon his name maybe but did not really put his name in my list of personal heroes of Science, like Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Pierre and Marie Curie, Alessandro Volta, and - I think that was it! I never imagined that during my youth I only know a handful of scientific heroes and heroines.  But I am very sure I can't remember hearing or reading his name during those times. I do wonder that sometimes, Why is that?

Of course I am familiar with this person now that I am an adult. Who wouldn't? Any Red Alert player heard his name as a defensive tower for the Soviets, shooting lightning bolts on any allied soldier desperate for a quick kill. That name stuck in my mind ever since.

His name is Nikola Tesla. A Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist. A brilliant inventor and at the same time a mysterious figure in his later years, he made significant and lasting contributions in the science of Electricity. His vision and his passion produced his greatest contributions in the field of Alternating Current electricity supply system (AC).

He lived during the time electricity was at its infancy. He went to the US as an immigrant. Worked with Thomas Edison for some time and then was able to find financiers for his projects and inventions. As Wikipedia gladly summarized for us:

Tesla gained experience in telephony and electrical engineering before emigrating to the United States in 1884 to work for Thomas Edison. He soon struck out on his own with financial backers, setting up laboratories and companies to develop a range of electrical devices. His patented AC induction motor and transformer were licensed by George Westinghouse, who also hired Tesla as a consultant to help develop a power system using alternating current. Tesla is also known for his high-voltage, high-frequency power experiments in New York and Colorado Springs which included patented devices and theoretical work used in the invention of radio communication, for his X-ray experiments, and for his ill-fated attempt at intercontinental wireless transmission in his unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project. 

His Tower is being financed by one of the big giants of Wall Street at that time, J.P. Morgan. The death sentence to the said project was also when Guilliermo Marconi was able to transmit a letter wirelessly from Newfoundland to England, shattering hopes whatever Tesla have on accomplishing his goal of wireless communication.  He also told Morgan that the tower can also provide wireless electricity. Ultimately after seeing that his project would not be profitable after all, he abandoned Tesla.  He Tesla died poor and unknown in January 1943.

During the last few decades of the 20th century, due to the rising demand of energy and the almost endless quest for renewable and sustainable sources of energy, researchers, scientists and people from all walks of life rekindled their curiosity about the life of this maverick for science. I am not sure whether Tesla is the reason but there is a movement called the "free energy" movement that stemmed from this quest for free and sustainable energy. The mainstream scientific community is still skeptical of the claims of these inventors from this movement.

Thanks to the internet, there are lots of resources about the person behind that extraordinary brain. You can watch a simple documentary below.

Here is a toast to everybody who supports my blog since the start. Two tesla coils singing an all-familiar tune.

Links of Interest: Note, I am showing all the links that has a pro and con approach to the Edison-Tesla rivalry at that time. Not siding who, just finding it interesting that people still have a fondness for defending long time heroes. You decide.

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