War of Currents!

This is the story of a forgotten inventor who went on harnessing the forces of nature to the human need for almost all through his life time.  He was the one, who is responsible for the fast growth of industrial revolution in America and later at all parts of world.  He was the one, who first demonstrated Wireless Communication, Remote Control, working of Guided Missiles, uses of Neon and Fluorescent light and the first one who dreamed to harness the force of world famous Niagara Falls.  He was also a contemporary of Thomas Alva Edison, and undoubtedly a greatest inventor of all time.  His name is Nikola Tesla.

IMG_8316Nikola Tesla was born in a typical Serbian family on 10 July 1856.  His father was a Serbian Orthodox Priest.  After completing his primary and secondary education near his birth town, he was interested to do his further education in engineering.  During those days there were only two options for children’s, one should become priest or should join to Army.  His father expected him to become priest but Tesla denied both of them and showed interested in engineering.  At last Tesla convinced his father and joined one of the prestigious institutions during those days.  His subject in engineering was Electrical Engineering.  During early days of his engineering Tesla was very much fascinated with the science of electricity.  He began to do certain experiments on electricity which made him to understand in better way.  By then Michael Faraday had discovered the process of generation of electricity by Electromagnetic Induction.  Tesla began to work on this process and developed a vision of producing Alternating Current!

Electricity was still at the developing stage in 19th Century.  During that time Thomas Alva Edison was become very popular for his discovery of “Incandescent Bulb” or the “Electric Bulb”.  Electric Bulb is one of the greatest inventions of all time, because this tiny little bulb has made us to observe our night time as broad day time and revolutionized the world. After it’s discovery electric bulb suddenly became famous all over the world for its simplicity and efficient work.   He began to manufacture his electric bulb through his company “Edison Electric Company” based in US.  By that time there were many industries, and slowly industrial revolution was taking its shape in America and all over the world.  But one of the drawback for these industries was they were using Direct Current or DC.  All motors, generators and lights were using DC.  And Edison had a great faith in DC and was using DC for all his works.  He had his own laboratory in his company and he was working on improving the efficiency of motors, generators by using DC.  But Tesla an engineering graduate was dreaming about an entirely different idea of generating Alternating Currents (AC) and using AC for generators.  On one occasion Tesla expressed his interest on AC for his teacher in class.  In reply teacher said ‘you will never accomplish this…, because it is like a perpetual motion’.  Tesla was disturbed with this remark but he did not lose his interest.   Somehow Tesla wanted to carry on his work on AC but he was in need of financial assistance.  One of his friends suggested him to meet Thomas Alva Edison and continue his work with him.  By then Edison was recognized as a great electrical engineer around the world.  Tesla friend Charles Batchelor who was also a close associate for Edison agreed to give ticket for his voyage to America and to meet Edison.  Tesla agreed for this and thought he should discuss his ideas with Edison and continue his work with him.

Tesla started his voyage to America, the country where he finally settles and attains its Citizenship.  During his voyage he lost his ticket and lands in America without having money in his pocket.  Somehow he meets Edison at his company and showed him the letter which his friend Batchelor had given him.  Batchelor began his letter, “Dear Mr. Edison, I know two great man and you are one of them and the other is this young man…”  These sentences indicates Batchelor had already noticed the talent and visionary ideas of Tesla.  Tesla began to explain his interest of developing and improving the generators by using AC to Edison.  Edison straight away shows his disagreement with this idea by saying it is impractical, and offers him a position in his company and suggests him to work with him for improving efficiency of DC generators.  Tesla agreed for this and Edison going one step forward offers him price money if he succeeded in his work.  Tesla, who is always fascinated with electricity, works hard and finally succeeds in doing Edison work.  After the work when Tesla enquired about his price money with Edison, he denied by saying you don’t understand American’s sense of humor!  Feeling embarrassing Tesla resigns his position in Edison Company and starts his own lab in the same street.

After starting his own lab Tesla was deeply involved in his idea of AC.  The problem with Direct Current is, it is sufficient to power light and motor, but long distance transmission was not efficient.  Tesla was trying to improve this by using AC.  He spends almost all his time in his lab and finally comes up with the idea of AC generators, and even builds a small working generator in his lab.  Tesla even took patent for this design.  One day George Westinghouse an American entrepreneur and owner of Westinghouse Electric Company visits Tesla’s lab.  Looking at Tesla’s generators and its efficient work, on spot he offered a highest position in his company and agreed to pay for his patent design work.  Within no time Tesla became a billionaire.  He became very famous for his invention in AC generators.  Noticing Tesla’s

fame in America, Edison started negative media coverage by demonstrating the disadvantages of AC at public places.  He even electrocuted animals at public places and killed them.  In turn Tesla had a public demonstration of explaining how efficient is AC for motors, generators and long distance transmission if properly maintained.  Both of them are greatest inventor of their time, yet their views on Alternating and Direct current are different.  This difference and fight between them was portrayed as ‘War of Currents’.  Finally the war dramatically ends and Tesla wins the war for his revolutionary design of AC generator.

In 1893, to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arrival in New World, World Columbian Exposition was arranged at Chicago.  For this event, Westinghouse Electric Company and Edison Electric Company were awarded the task of placing light for the entire area near the Statue of Republic.  Tesla took this challenge seriously and built large AC generation plants. It was his AC generators which were used to supply electricity for electric bulbs which are from Edison Company.  When night falls, lights were switched on everywhere.  This is the world’s first fare that was lit up by electricity.  It was one of the world’s best magnificent displays of light ever seen by mankind.  All these was possible due to Tesla’s innovative and great work on AC generators and its efficiency!  Lord Kelvin (physicist and head of International Commission which was working on to use the power of water falls to generate electricity) was also attend this great fare.  Looking at this amazing display of light as well as the AC generators, Lord Kelvin awards a project for Westinghouse Electric Company to build a Power Station at Niagara Falls.  It was a dream comes true for Tesla.  During his childhood he one’s told his uncle about harnessing the force of Niagara falls.  And now he is at the edge of making his dream to alive and creating a history in the world.  Westinghouse took this project as a challenge under the leadership of Tesla and installed two 5000 horse power generators which generated AC current and stepped up to 22000 volts and then transmitted over a long distance.  This was a great boon for the industries and the industrial revolution began in America.  Even today we are using the same design that Tesla did one hundred years ago.  He was a visionary scientist, all his work and design is exceptionally brilliant.  If we are having a privileged life due to electricity, it is all because of Tesla’s innovative ideas and thinking.  Every Hydroelectric Power Station which you see all over the world today uses Tesla’s AC generators.  This even paved way for the industrial revolution across the world, and today we know how industrial revolution has changed our way of life.

The legacy of Tesla does not end here.  He resigned his position at Westinghouse Company and starts his own lab and works on new objectives.  He concentrated his next work on transferring energy without wires.  That is Wireless Transmission and Radio Communication.  He did lot of research and build many models to demonstrate his work and even got patented for his many designs.  He again dreamed of connecting entire globe with wireless communication.  Today wireless communication is obvious for us but during his days it was unimaginable.  Tesla also invented a special coil known as Tesla Coil.  Even today it is called as Tesla Coil.  It is a specially designed coil for conversion of low voltage to high voltage in turn for high frequencies.  These high frequencies can be transmitted by using transmitter and received at the other end by using receiver.  Tesla did many experiments by using this coil and in fact he built one of the biggest Tesla Coil in his time for transmitting higher frequencies.  He tuned his frequencies in such a way that he himself should act as a receiver and he could glow a lamp just by holding it in hand anywhere in the room, without connecting wire!  It was like magic for public, and Tesla was a magician in public view.  During that time G. Marconi has announced to the world regarding the transmission of radio waves across Pacific Ocean.  But it was said that Marconi has used Tesla’s 28 patent in his work, and he even used a coil similar to Tesla coil but argued it was the design that he created for his work.  No one questioned Marconi about this and he ultimately became famous as an inventor of Radio.

After all these events, Tesla again concentrated on his other works. He built remote controlling devices, and went on studying lightning for many years.  He even built another laboratory for the study of lightning and produced the first manmade lightning from his lab.  He also worked on X rays, fluorescent and neon lights and did major contribution in developing those fields.  Tesla was a master in electricity, his work in electricity is immortal.  His thinking capabilities and a vision in each of his invention is a legendary stories.

In 1909 G. Marconi was awarded Nobel Prize for his work on Radio.  Tesla commented for this news saying “Marconi is a donkey”.  And finally 1915 Nobel Prize was   announced for Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla for their valuable contribution to the field of Electricity.  Tesla felt very happy about the prize and ready to share the prize with Edison, but before the Nobel Prize Ceremony, both name were dropped and the prize was given to another physicists H. Bragg and L. Bragg for their work on X ray analysis on crystal Structure.  Noble Prize committee remarked by saying, the announcement of prize to Edison and Tesla was just rumors and it was just an error in media.  Edison and Tesla did not win Nobel Prize!  After these unpleasant events Tesla alone continued his work in his laboratory.  Later his condition was worst and he became broke and was seen feeding pigeons at the parks in New York.  Looking at Tesla’s condition his old boss Westinghouse helped him financially.  Finally, Institute of Electrical Engineer recognized Tesla’s work and announced America’s prestigious prize “Edison Medal” to Nikola Tesla.  But Tesla goes missing during the prize distribution day, even Edison neglect the event because of his official tour.  On the same day at evening, Tesla was seen feeding pigeons near the public library building at New York, after he spotted; prize was handed over to him!

Even during his final days Tesla was working on a new project known as “Death Ray” which uses lightning beams to kill enemies.  It was said that he had the rough design of this science fiction device.  Today we know that it is impractical to build this device.     Nikola Tesla died on 7 January 1943.    He was 87 years old when he died.  He died in his hotel room at New York.  And many of his new design papers went missing from his hotel room including the Death Ray device.

Nikola Tesla is a great visionary engineer and a true inventor of all time.  He had a vision in every goal.  His work on AC generator has truly changed the way of life and well being of mankind.  He saw the beauty and powerful forces of nature and went on harnessing forces of nature to the need of mankind.  He worked in his life like a true inventor!

To honor this great inventor in 1960 the General Conference on Measures and Weights announced the unit of physical quantity “Magnetic Induction” called as “Tesla (T)”.

Photo Credit:
First Photo: It is a photo displayed at VITM, Bangalore.
Second Photo: https://www.facebook.com/lNikolaTeslal
Documentaries on Tesla: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/search/?results=NIkola+Tesla

Viswa Keerthy S


Six Easy Pieces from Feynman

The subject which was called Natural Philosophy during olden days is relatively called Physics in today’s world.  Physics is a study of nature in particular the ‘laws’ of nature.  It means, Physics involves the study of why ‘things’ has to happen the way it is happening and figuring out the law behind it?  What is so special about these laws?  Can we explain everything (I mean the working of nature) with these laws?  For centuries people have struggled with these questions and exhausted their life on searching out the correct laws of nature.  Some of them have succeeded in figuring out.  They are the great persons (Archimides to Stephen Hawking) who revolutionized our understanding about nature.  From last fifty years due to the rapid growth in the field of science and technology, the question we can ask is, have we figured out all the laws of nature?  Can we say how nature works?  The answer is no! We have not yet reached such level of understanding.  We can bravely say we still don’t know many ‘things’ and how it works!  Yet, our small understanding about nature has put all of us to lead privileged life, which none of our ancestors experienced.  Now if you ask, what we have did, and what we have understood about nature, I better show you this book- “Six Easy Pieces Essentials” by Richard P. Feynman.

The book contains six chapters, taken from most famous book in physics “The Feynman Lectures on Physics”.  Six Chapters are Atoms in Motion, Basic Physics, The Relation of Physics to other Science, Conservation of Energy, Theory of Gravitation and Quantum Behavior.  Unlike the great physicist, Feynman was considered as a greatest physicist and teacher of all time.  He has a remarkable talent of explaining most difficult ‘things’ in a very simple way.  This makes him very special among all other scientist.  His legendary lectures at Caltech, now it is called Feynman Lectures, considered as ‘The Bible’ in physics.  And the six chapters which were mentioned above are the selected topics from these books. It’s a popular science book and does not require any knowledge of science to read.  But, if you have interest in science you must read this book.   He explains how each simple observation and some simple experiments have changed our understanding about nature.  It is true that we have revolutionized our level of understanding compare to the Aristotle period or even at the beginning of 20th century.  Yet, we have not fully discovered the entire laws.

The title of the book says “Six Easy Pieces Essentials” in reality these are the six pieces, which are very essential to understand our nature. And Feynman does not make you to understand these topics; instead he explains why these are very important, what is so special about them, in his typical ‘Feynman Style’.  Read the book to get experience yourself.  At last let me ask you this.  By some way all our scientific knowledge is destroyed and only one sentence (Scientific Idea) is to be conveyed to the future generation.  What will you convey in one sentence, which contains nearly all information of our scientific idea? Answer: Read this book!

You can Google it and get E-copy of the book.
For purchase…

-Viswa Keerthy S (21/07/2013)