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Nikola Tesla - the electric genius

Nikola Tesla - the electric genius

By Mico Tatalovic
Cambridge University, UK

Nikola Tesla invented electricity as we know it today. Without his inventions we could kiss goodbye to computers, TVs and radios, trains and neon lights. Tesla's invention of the induction motor allowed alternating current to be produced and used worldwide, something unimaginable with the way electricity was produced prior to his ideas.

Born in 1856, Tesla's teacher in Graz, Austria later told him it was impossible to produce alternating current; it would be ‘perpetuum mobile’, he said. Nevertheless, the Croatian-born genius, while walking one day in a park in Budapest and quoting his favourite passage from Goethe's Faust, suddenly had an idea that would change the world. He sketched a diagram on the sand in the park and later copied it to paper.

After being ignored by European investors, he travelled to New York with four pennies, a sketch and a recommendation in his pocket. The recommendation was from the director of a powerplant in Germany addressed to Thomas Edison saying: “I know two great men. One is yourself, the other is the young man in front of you”.

100 Serbian dinar banknote front. Photo courtesy of The National Bank of SerbiaHowever, after doing some work for Edison, who was reluctant to hear about alternating current since he was investing in his ideas of direct current, Tesla was refused his salary and made fun of. This was a begining of a life-long dislike of Edison, who was previously his role-model, which culminated in Tesla's refusal to share a Nobel prize for physics with him in 1915, according to some.

Tesla was a pacifist and a humanist, a man who wanted electricity to be available to everyone for free. His wish to bring this free energy by a renewable source and by wireless transfer led him to invest all he earned into new research and inventions. Sadly, this led to him dying penniless – even though most of the world's economy was powered by his idea for electricity.

Yet, before his death he managed not only to make possible wide scale use and transfer of electricity but he also invented the radio – not Marconi as is widely thought. He also took the first ever X-ray photos, invented neon lighting and designed the first ever remote control.

He also had some more bizarre ideas; he attempted to design electric death rays that would lead to cessation of all wars, and came up with a powerplant that could reap cosmic energy and transmit electri
city through the atmosphere or the soil – so people would get the electricity for free using simple receiving in-ground devices. His investors were (perhaps unsurprisingly) reluctant to fund this research!

Tesla in his trademark pose. Tesla's vibrant life and strokes of genius were often exploited by others due to his own high regard and trust of others. Nowadays he is remembered by science and his legacy continues today. This year marked the 150th anniversary of Tesla's birth in a small Croatian village of Smiljan to a religious Serbian family. Croatia and Serbia both proclaimed 2006 to be the year of Nikola Tesla; postage stamps were dedicated to him and Belgrade airport was even renamed Nikola Tesla Airport – praise indeed.

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29 Apr 2010
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