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The medium

When Tesla speaks of commotion in the medium, what is the medium? In Tesla's time it was an article of faith that there existed a unified field that permeated all being called the ether. The ether as the electric medium still is an article of faith in some circles, but in official science its existence is presumed to have been disproved in the laboratory. Nevertheless, this conviction about an ether ran very deep, not only among scientists but among all thinkers, until only about forty-some years ago when particle theory, E=MC2, and, finally Hiroshima firmly established the new faith. Tesla said the electron did not exist.

The materialistic concept of these little particles running through conductors is alien to Tesla electric theory. Here is the Quaker writer Rufus Jones on the ether in 1920: An intangible substance which we call ether - luminiferous (light-bearing) aether - fills all space, even the space occupied by visible objects, and this ether which is capable of amazing vibrations, billions of times a second, is set vibrating at different velocities by different objects. These vibrations bombard the minute rods of the retina... It is responsible also for all the immensely varied phenomena of electricity, probably, too of cohesion and gravitation...

The dynamo and the other electrical mechanisms, which we have invented do not make or create electricity. They merely let it come through, showing itself now as light, now as heat, now again as motive power. But always it was there before, unnoted, merely potential, and yet a vast surrounding ocean of energy there behind, ready to break into active operation when the medium was at hand for it. Jones, who was not a scientist but a religious thinker and communicator, was making a point about the nearness of God's power and could do so by invoking the physics of his time. This would be difficult using the Einsteinian physics in fashion today, which W. Gordon Allen has called atheistic science.

Although the ether is intangible, it is assumed to have elastic properties, so that Tesla can say a circuit with a large capacity behaves as a slack spring, whereas one with a small capacity acts as a stiff spring vibrating more vigorously. This elastic character of the ether, which you experience palpably when you play with a pair of magnets, is due to the medium's lust for equilibrium. Distorted by electrical charge (or by magnetism or by the gravity of a material body), the ether seeks to restore a perfect balance between the polarities of positive-negative, plus/minus, yang/yin.

Voltage is the measure of ether strain or imbalance, called potential difference, or just potential. Balance is not restored from this strained condition in one swing-back. As we have seen with the capacitor, the disturbed electric medium, like a plucked guitar string, over-swings the centerline of equilibrium to one side, then to the other, again and again, and this we know as vibration. In this way of looking at nature, vibration is energy; energy is vibration. So you could say that the commotion in the medium caused by the capacitors discharge is energy itself.

Thus, you can speak of the capacitor as an energy magnifier. Even though a feeble potential may charge it, the sudden blast of the capacitor's release plucks the medium mightily. The capacitor is common in modern circuitry, but Tesla used it with much greater emphasis on its capability as an energy magnifier and on a scale almost unheard of today. It's difficult to find commercial capacitors that meet Tesla specifications. Builders of tesla coils and other high-voltage devices usually must construct their own capacitors. Fortunately, this can be done using readily available materials.

How it works

The spark gap: A simple way to discharge a capacitor is through a spark gap. The spark-gap oscillator is just a capacitor firing into a circuit load (lamps or whatever) through the spark gap. The opening between the spark-gap electrodes determines when the capacitor will fire. This setting is one determinant of the frequency of the circuit.

The others are capacity and the reactance, or bounce characteristics, of the load. The potential needed to bridge the gap is in the tens of thousands of volts. It takes a potential of about 20,000 volts to break down the resistance of just a quarter of an inch of air. The gap doesn't necessarily have to be air. Tesla has referred to a gap consisting of a film of insulation. A spark gap is a switching device, a semiconductor in fact. But the spark gap is problematic, particularly the common two-electrode air-gap

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version. Heating and ionizing of the air cause irregularities in conduction and premature firing.

This arcing must be quenched. It can be to a great degree by using a series of small gaps instead of one larger one, or by using a rotary gap. Tesla also immersed the gap in flowing oil, used an air blowout, and even found that a magnetic field helps to quench. For the gap Tesla substituted highspeed rotary switches, which he called circuit controllers. One has a rotor that dips into a pool of mercury, and another uses mercury jets to make contact. You can operate a spark gap without a capacitor by connecting it directly to a source of sufficient voltage.

This is, of course, how our automotive spark plugs work, directly off the coil. (The capacitor in that circuit is used to juice the ignition coil primary.) The auto distributor, incidentally, is a rotary gap, pure Tesla. Early radio amateurs used spark-gap oscillators as transmitters. The capacitor was, more often than not, left out of the circuit, but with it the transmitter could create a greater commotion in the medium.

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