Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Tesla

Do you like remote controls, radio, wireless devices, and motors? Do you like having outlets throughout your house? Then you need to thank Nikola Tesla - America's most under appreciated inventor. Today is his birthday, and you wouldn't know it except for the custom logo on Google's search page. Tesla was equal parts Bill Gates, DaVinci, Nostradamus, and Dr. Frankenstein. The more you know about him the more unreal he gets - as if he was a visitor from the future who brought back enabling technology to the early part of the twentieth century. He was an early pioneer in the field of electricity and magnetism. Here are just a few of his inventions:
  • Alternating Current (AC power systems) - in the war of currents, Tesla's AC power which was backed by George Westinghouse beat out Thomas Edison's Direct Current or DC system as the backbone for power distribution in the U.S.
  • Polyphase Power Distribution (a.k.a. 3 phase power). Look up at most power poles and you'll see three lines.
  • AC Motors - which is also a polyphase system. Induction motors have an electromagnetic case which creates a rotating output shaft. These motors were one of the key ingredients of the Second Industrial Revolution in the United States.
  • Radio Transmission - Marconi gets the credit for inventing radio, but Tesla was the true inventor.
Edison spent a lot of time and energy trying to discredit Tesla's ideas and inventions. Matter of fact, Tesla worked for Edison initially but their relationship soured when Tesla was not paid for his work as they originally agreed. Tesla was a genius, but unlike Edison, he was a poor business man. Later in his life, Tesla dedicated his work towards wireless power transmission. As part of these studies he discovered that the resonant frequency of the Earth was approximately 8 Hertz (Hz). In the 1950s, researchers confirmed that the resonant frequency of the Earth's ionospheric cavity was in this range (later named the Schumann resonance). People thought he lost his mind at the end, where he lived penniless in a hotel and had a fondness for birds. He even claimed that he had the ability to create a death ray - which raised the eyebrows of U.S. military personnel leading up to World War II.

Regardless of his far reaching ideas, Tesla was one of the greatest inventors to ever grace our planet. It's my hope that other people learn and appreciate this great man. If you ever get the chance check out PBS' excellent documentary titled, "Tesla - Master of Lightning" you'll be amazed at the breadth and depth of his genius. PBS also has a companion web site which covers his life. I was happy to hear recently that there is a movement afoot to save his Wardenclyffe lab site in Long Island. Spread the word about this talented American!


peteo said...

I thought you were referring to 80s hair band.

Nice work calling out Tesla the man.

Scott Raedeke said...

Dude, it's like a "Five Man Acoustical Jam"! Those guys sold 6 million albums - more than I would have guessed...