Nikola Tesla Electricitys Hidden Genius

Keith Tutt Copyright © Keith Tutt, 2001

Imprinted from The Scientist, the Madman, the Thief & Their Light Bulb, Simon & Schuster Pub.

"I have harnessed the cosmic rays and caused them to operate a motive device."

Nikola Tesla, The Brooklyn Eagle, 10 July 1931

"Era many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by power obtainable at any point in the universe. Is this energy static or kinetic? If static, our hopes are in vain; if kinetic — and this we know it is for certain — then it is a mere question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature."

Nikola Tesla, "Experiments With Alternate Currents of High Potential and High Frequency," 1904

In 1884 a young Croatian immigrant stepped ashore at the Castle Garden Immigration Office in Manhattan, New York. He was a sharp-featured 27-year-old with a glamorous shock of black hair, named Nikola Tesla. In his coat pockets he carried a few coins, some papers with drawings and calculations on them and, perhaps most importantly of all, a letter of introduction to Thomas Alva Edison, the incumbent king of electricity.

Behind Tesla there was already an extraordinary past filled with invention, hardship and a series of near fatal accidents and afflictions. Ahead of him lay a future in which many of the things he had already imagined would come to pass for the benefit of the world. And yet his greatest wish—of freely available electrical energy for all—would be denied him.

Blessed with an extraordinary mind capable of extravagant and yet detailed visual imagination, Tesla was a complex prodigy who suffered from strange over-sensitivities and symptoms of what we would now call an obsessive compulsive disorder. As well as one of the most highly developed forms of photographic memory, Tesla claimed to possess a superhuman, almost supernatural, power of hearing which enabled him to hear conversations hundreds of yards away and - in a few instances - to hear thunder up to 500 miles away. During a teenage nervous breakdown Tesla could hardly go out of his home, as he had become hyperaware of sounds, atmospheric pressures and sunlight. He seemed to feel the impact of natural phenomena directly within his body. His compulsive side brought long periods of needing to count physical actions he performed - steps along a road, mouthfuls of food, even breaths: he behaved like a self-monitoring machine, a mobile laboratory which his psyche had decided to investigate. Later, when he was able to bring the exercise of his will power to bear over these compulsions, he would make good use of this internal observation.

Invention came naturally to Tesla from an early age. When he was five he modelled a waterwheel which worked without the use of any conventional blades; he was later to recall this when he designed his bladeless turbine [1] He designed a device in which imprisoned beetles powered a wheel with the flapping of their wings. He tried to fly from the top of the family house using an umbrella - a feat which nearly killed him. He tried to take apart and reconstruct his grandfather's clocks, a skill which had its limits: "hi the former I was always successful, but often failed in the latter." [2]

In 1875, at the age of eighteen, he enrolled at the Austrian Polytechnic Shool in Graz, Austria, where he studied mathematics, physics and mechanics. He was determined to complete the two-year course in one year, and worked most days from three in the morning until eleven at night. One aspect of his compulsion was a need to complete anything he had started.

While it later became a helpful force within his creative production, it often drove him to despair. At college he had started to read the works of Voltaire when he discovered that there were nearly one hundred volumes in small print. Such was the strange conscience of his psyche that he could not rest until all were read.

It was during his time at Graz that his ideas about alternating current first started to surface. Professor Poeschl, a German, was Tesla's inspirational teacher of theoretical and experimental physics. One day Poeschl showed the class anew electrical machine that had just arrived from Paris: called a Gramme Machine, it could function as both a direct current (DC) motor and a dynamo. Tesla reported later that he felt strangely excited by the machine's arrival. When it was operating the machine's brushes sparked wildly. Tesla suggested to his teacher that the machine could be improved if the commutator were done away with, and if it were to run instead by alternating current. He didn"t know how this might be done, and yet he had an instinct that somehow the answer might lie within his own mind. The professor was less confident: "Mr Tesla may accomplish great things but he will never do this. It would be equivalent to converting a steadily pulling force, like gravity, into a rotary effort. It is a perpetual motion machine, an impossible idea. "[3] However, Tesla's need to complete things would not let this idea rest: "With me it was a sacred vow, a question of life and death. I knew that I would perish if failed."

With this motivation burning away inside him, it was a few more years before finally a burst of creativity hit the young Tesla. He was taking a walk in Graz"s city park with Anital Szigety, a mechanic friend, at the same time reciting a passage from Goethe"s Faust. Then, as Tesla reported it: "The idea came like a flash of lightning, and in an instant the truth was revealed." Tesla started to draw in the dirt with a stick for his friend to see: "See my motor here; watch me reverse it! [4]

He had hit upon a whole new system of electrical operation based on the totally novel concept of producing a rotating magnetic field by running two or more alternating currents out of phase with each other. The rotating magnetic field completely did away with the need for the conventional brush contacts and commutator of the normal DC motor. In his creative flash he had discovered multiphase alternating current (AC) - a leap forward which would make possible the high-voltage widescale generation, transmission and distribution of electricity that is still the worldwide standard today. In that same moment he had also shown Professor Poeschl the error of his skeptical ways. Over the next days, Tesla designed most of the new machines and devices required by the multiphase AC system: particularly the induction motor and all the equipment required for the generation and supply of AC electricity. He wrote of his work: "It was a mental state of happiness about as complete as I have ever known in life. Ideas came in an interrupted stream, and the only difficulty I had was to hold them fast." His work also provided an example of his extreme gift of visualization: "The pieces of apparatus I conceived were to me absolutely real and tangible in every detail, even to the minutest marks and signs of wear. I delighted in imagining the motors constantly running."[5]

As well as an extraordinary intuitive gift for new technological ideas, Tesla was blessed with this extreme form of "mental practicality", by which he was able to save himself many hours of wasted effort in engineering time. Instead of building real, physical devices, he would usually design and construct them in the workshop of his creative imagination. In this virtual testbed, he would set them running, later returning to see what had happened, what had worn or broken down, what had functiones correctly or incorrectly. He would then make imaginative improvements in order to make the devices more efficient or effective, before continuing this refining process. When he was absolutely happy with his mental creation, he would then, and only then, commit his idea to physical reality. It was this gift above all others that enabled him to be so prolific as an inventor.

When in 1884 the confident Tesla set off for America, however, with the AC system and its components firmly embedded in his mind, he had little idea of the difficult path that lay between him and acceptance of his technology - a path that threatened to both make and break the young Tesla.

The War of the Currents

Straight off the ship in New York, Tesla headed for the offices of the Edison Electric Company, where he found the 32-year-old dynamo of the new world Thomas Edison. Already the inventor of hundreds of products and the owner or co-owner of many electrically related companies, Edison was a self-educated genius with the street smart of an alley cat. Tesla presented his letter of recommendation to the short-tempered Edison - a letter from Charles Batchelor, one of Edison's trusted officers in Europe. The note, addressed to Edison, was entirely flattering: "I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man."

Within moments Tesla was attempting to explain his new induction motor and the development of the multiphase alternating current, but was stopped dead in his tracks by an angry Edison. His response was short and sharp: "Spare me that nonsense. It's dangerous. We're set up for direct current in America. People like it, and it's all I'll ever fool with."[6]

Edison was totally opposed to anything but his own DC system, believing, erroneously as it turned out, that his incandescent light bulbs would not work with AC current. Nevertheless he offered the crestfallen Tesla a job on his workshop crew. It was hardly the last he was to hear of Tesla's AC breakthrough. Once Tesla left his employ - following a broken promise over a $50,000 bonus owing to Tesla - he would team up with George Westinghouse, the Pittsburgh business magnate. While Tesla was a scientific genius of the highest level, he faced a continual challenge to fund the great, but expensive, plans that his imagination provided. When he joined George Westinghouse in 1888 to bring AC electricity to the whole of America, he signed a contract, which gave him royalties of $2.50 for each horsepower of generating capacity licensed. The War of the Currents - the battle to electrify America - had begun in earnest.

While Edison had managed to electrify the wealthier parts of New York with a series of local coal- and steam-driven generating stations, his stubbornness could not allow him to think that there might be a more electrically efficient and more cost-efficient solution. With the backing of Pierpont Morgan, one of the wealthiest and most ruthless businessmen of his time, Edison had pinned his colors firmly to the DC mast, and there was no turning back. For him it was a battle to the death - although the fatalities were, in the end, innocent and unlikely victims.

In the War of the Currents Edison became a sinister P.T. Barnum figure: dogs and cats were collected off the streets and publicly electrocuted by Edison to demonstrate that AC electricity was dangerous - even lethal. Edison even convinced the New York State prison service to employ early AC electrical equipment in the world's first electrocution of a convicted murderer. AC was so dangerous, he contended, that all it was good for was killing.

Despite Edison's propaganda, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair saw Westinghouse and Tesla emerge as victors in the War of the Currents, with a combination of showmanship and technical superiority. The same year Westinghouse was awarded the contract to manufacture the generating equipment for the electrification of Niagara Falls, and Tesla was to be in charge of the design. In a compromise, General Electric, which had taken over the Edison Electric Company, was to supply the transmission and distribution lines for the twenty-six miles from Niagara to Buffalo - the nearest major city. Yet even General Electric's proposal was now based on alternating current technology. For Tesla this was a double triumph: not only had alternating current been accepted for its technical superiority, but he had also been given a strange confirmation of the power of his mind.

At the time he had modeled his first waterwheels, while in school in Gospic, Croatia, he had seen some pictures of Niagara Falls in a school book. He had experienced a powerful reaction, and - as often - further associated creative pictures had appeared in his mind. He saw a huge wheel with water cascading over it. He told his uncle that one day he would travel to America and make this waterwheel. Some thirty years later his prophecy had come true.

By 1897 his royalties from AC were already worth some $12 million, and had they continued they could have reached billions. Tesla would have been the Bill Gates of his day. It was not to be. Westinghouse came under pressure from his commercial enemies. The General Electric Company managed a dirty tricks campaign that lowered the Westinghouse Company's stock and made it close to impossible for it to continue independently. George Westinghouse had to go back to Tesla and ask him to forego all his royalties -past, present and future - in order that the company could survive independently. Tesla, who believed that Westinghouse could still fulfill his dream of AC for all, gave up his right to the millions he was due, and accepted a single payment of just $216,600 for the outright purchase of all his AC patents. A large sum, perhaps, but not enough to independently fund Tesla's researches into the even more radical energy technologies that were already spinning around his mind.

Westinghouse survived to fight another day with General Electric over the country's seemingly infinite energy needs, even though court fights over patents would sap the company financial reserves for many years to come. From that time on it would be others who would benefit from Tesla's genius.

Forgotten Genius?

To demonstrate the genius of Tesla, we only need to list some of his patented inventions apart from those related to AC electricity: the arc light; the speedometer; the first radio-controlled boat; superconductivity; and the first tube light. He also laid the ground for radar, cryogenics, wireless radio and telephony, the use of X-rays and our understanding of the sun's cosmic rays. Cosmic rays were at the heart of some of Tesla's later ideas about energy production. In his own time, though, there were few who could accept his concept that the sun threw out showers of tiny, highly energetic, fast-moving particles. Although no record remains of his methods he claimed that he had measured their energy at hundreds of millions of volts. [7] Thirty years after he first aired his controversial theories, two Nobel laureate physicists, Dr Robert A. Millikan and Arthur H. Compton, admitted their debt to Tesla's work, even though they disagreed violently about the nature of the rays - whether they were in fact photon (light) rays or, as Tesla had believed, charged particles. Millikan, though, managed to measure their potential at 64 million volts, close to Tesla's figure. We now know that cosmic rays, which are many and varied, result from the formations, decays and collisions of many different kinds of particles - some from the sun and some from other, more distant stars, novae and supernovae. Nevertheless, Tesla's principal concept was closer to the truth than any of his contemporaries knew.

Many of Testa's discoveries and inventions are often mistakenly attributed to better-known names. While most lay people still believe that Marconi perfected the transmission and reception of radio waves, there is no longer reason to believe this: in June 1943 the US

Supreme Court ruled that Tesla's patents predated Marconi's claims on the prize of radio. Popular history is, though, still slow to catch up. Errors committed in print can take many years to correct. The just do not always get to write the history books, and even during his lifetime Tesla became an object of ridicule and derision for his "outlandish ideas." There were times when he may have contributed to this -for instance when he agreed with Lord Kelvin in 1902 that Mars was trying to make contact with America. (It is now believed he may have been the first person to have measured - without realizing its origin - the pulsing of distant stars.) However, Kelvin and Tesla also agreed on a further, more prophetic point: that the world's non-renewable resources - such as coal and oil - should be conserved and that wind and solar power should be developed [8] Tesla's creative scientific skills seemed to know few boundaries; yet many who saw him work were scared by his radical approach to natural forces. In public demonstrations he would often wreathe himself in sparks and crackling bolts of high-voltage electricity without ever seeming to do himself harm:

"I still remember with pleasure how, nine years ago, I passed the discharge of a powerful induction-coil, through my body to demonstrate before a scientific society the comparative harmlessness of very rapidly vibrating electric currents, and I can still recall the astonishment of my audience. I would now undertake, with much less apprehension than I had in that experiment, to transmit through my body with such currents the entire electrical energy of the dynamos now working at Niagara -forty or fifty thousand horsepower. I have produced electrical oscillations which were of such intensity that when circulating through my arms and chest they have melted wires which joined my hands, and still I felt no inconvenience." [9]

A famous photograph of Tesla captures him sitting on a chair in the laboratory he built at Colorado Springs in 1899. From the huge electrical coil in the centre of the room, white arcing sparks — some over twenty feet long and as thick as a man's arm — squirm and leap around him. With millions of volts of electrical charge appearing to surround his posing figure, he seems perfectly, archly, "at home" - and to prove it he is calmly reading a book. It is a seminal image of the man who was more comfortable with the awesome power of natural electricity than perhaps anyone else - either before or since. The image is, in fact, a double exposure, a flashy kind of hoax; nevertheless, it demonstrates a key part of Tesla's personality his love of showmanship.

Transmission Without Wire

While many of Tesla's dreams were achieved, his most ambitious visions remained unfulfilled during his lifetime. It is a matter of some considerable speculation, given his great achievements, as to why some of his plans did not reach fruition. While Tesla had gained great respect as an engineer and inventor, there were always those - like his professor in earlier times - who did not believe that his imaginings could really come to anything. There were others who were in commercial and technological competition with Tesla - Edison, for example — who were willing to ridicule him and to diminish his standing as a way of promoting their own interests. And then there were the backers, the moneymen, who both fed and starved him according to their preference. Tesla's individual wealth was never enough to linance his own projects, and when his projects cost more than expected, as they inevitably did, he would throw himself on the mercy of a series of investors and benefactors. Throughout his life Tesla's finances swung from copious amounts of cash -which were soon invested in new machinery and inventions - to mountainous debts.

In early 1899 Tesla secured new investment from a number of wealthy individuals including Col. John Jacob Astor, owner of New York's Waldorf Astoria Hotel. With this money he set up an elaborate laboratory in Colorado Springs, where he unleashed artificial lightning discharges of several million volts (blowing up the local generating station in the process). Tesla was convinced that he could transmit radio signals hundreds, even thousands of miles around the globe. In the 1890s he had secured patents on many aspects of radio transmission. In late 1900 Tesla needed a large investment if he were to get his Worldwide Wireless Telephone Transmitter to deliver its promise. After false starts with a number of investors he approached J. Pierpont Morgan, who had been Edison's backer during the early-days of Edison's DC developments. Morgan's habit was to own 51 per cent of everything he became involved in, and when Tesla approached him with plans for his worldwide radio broadcasting system, the magnate Morgan was happy to forward him $150,000 secured on 51 per cent of Tesla's interests in his own radio patents.

Tesla did not tell Morgan his hidden agenda, which he had earlier confided to the now unsupportive Westinghouse:

"You will know of course that I contemplate the establishment of such a communication merely as the first step to further and more important work, namely that of transmitting power. But as the latter will be an undertaking on a much larger and more expensive scale, I am compelled to first demonstrate such feature to get the confidence of capital." [10]

Through his experiments he had become convinced that there were ways to transmit unlimited amounts of electrical energy to any point on the globe without using any conventional transfer medium such as copper cable. Writing later in 1900, he described how he had developed his ideas:

"For a long time I was convinced that such a transmission on an industrial scale could never be realized, but a discovery which I made changed my view. I observed that under certain conditions the atmosphere, which is normally a high insulator, assumes conducting properties, and so becomes capable of conveying any amount of electrical energy." [11]

But in order to carry out all the experiments, he needed to first put in place the worldwide radio broadcasting station. He had already proved to his own satisfaction that he could broadcast and receive signals over seven hundred miles, and now he offered Morgan the possibility of both transatlantic and transpacific radio communication. Tesla quickly purchased 200 acres of Long Island, which he christened "Wardenclyffe". The money was soon being spent on the transmitting tower that would be Tesla's landmark, the symbol of his life's vision. Wardenclyffe tower was 187 feet high and topped with a massive fifty-five-ton mushroom-like dome. This contained Tesla's most important component - the magnifying transmitter capable of generating oscillating signals of some hundreds of millions of volts.

In the two years or so that it took Tesla to build the transmitter he had developed two major problems. With escalating costs and long delays he was now in desperate financial straits. His second problem was Marconi, who had, on 12 December 1901, sent the first wireless signal from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland. What Morgan, and many others, did not know was that Marconi was using Tesla's radio patents, which were to become the focus of much dispute before Tesla's primacy was established in 1943.

Nor did Morgan appreciate how Marconi was able to achieve this with much less equipment and cost than Tesla was employing. He also didn't know, but was about to find out,

Tesla's hidden power agenda. Tesla had already filed a patent relating to the wireless transmission of power (US Patent No. 787,412 "Art of Transmitting Electrical Energy through the Natural Medium") and would later apply for a more important US Patent, No. 1,119,732 "Apparatus for Transmitting Electrical Energy", based on his work at Wardenclyffe. In his comprehensive vision every person on the planet would have a receiver, which, just like a radio, they could tune to receive unlimited, unmetered power. When, on 3 July 1903, Tesla made his final plea for more finance, he threw himself on Morgan's mercy, a quality that the magnate had never shown in any abundance: "If I could have told you such as this before, you would have fired me out of this office .. .Will you help me or let my great work - almost complete - go to pots?" [12]

Morgan"s reply came on 14 July: "I have received your letter ...and in reply would say I should not feel disposed at present to make any farther advances,"[13]

In a Promethean display of anger, the next night saw the skies around Wardenclyffe tower lit up with massive streaks and bolts of Tesla's artificial lightning, powered by the magnifying transmitter. But it was to be the last show of its kind. Neither Morgan nor Westinghouse, and none of the other big money people, were willing to start a new electrical revolution when they were still reaping the profits of the first revolution that Tesla had played his part in.

In the end, Wardenclyffe tower was demolished for scrap and Tesla moved on to more "acceptable" projects. Yet his desire to make energy freely available would never go away.

Tesla's Free Energy Devices

The wireless transmission of power was, essentially, a distribution technology. It still relied on a conventional power generation method such as coal and steam turbine to produce the enormous amounts of power it would have required. Since many years earlier, however, Tesla had been fascinated by the idea of new, untapped energy sources. In one of his famous lectures of 1892 he told an astounded audience:

"Ere many generations pass, our machinery will be driven by a power obtainable at any point of the universe... Throughout space there is energy. Is this energy static or kinetic? If static, our hopes are in vain; if kinetic - and this we know it is, for certain - then it is a mere question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature." [14]

In June 1900 in The Century Illustrated Magazine Tesla wrote what he considered to be the most important of all his articles, "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy." The article was radical, even sensational, in its ideas and caused a significant controversy amongst both scientists and the general public at the time of its publication.

"Whatever our resources of primary energy may be in the future, we must, to be rational, obtain it without consumption of any material. Long ago I came to this conclusion, and to arrive at this result only two ways appeared possible - either to turn to use the energy of the sun stored in the ambient medium, or to transmit, through the medium, the sun's energy to distant places from some locality where it was obtainable without consumption of material." [15]

Among many ideas for energy generation in the future, Tesla put forward a radical thought experiment:

It is possible, and even probable, that there will be, in time, other resources of energy opened up, of which we have no knowledge now. We may even find ways of applying forces such as magnetism and gravity for driving machinery without using any other means. Such realizations, though highly improbable, are not impossible. An example will best convey an idea of what we can hope to attain, and what we can never attain. Imagine a disk of some homogeneous material turned perfectly true and arranged to turn in frictionless bearings on a horizontal shaft above the ground. This disk, being under the above conditions perfectly balanced, would rest in any position. Now it is possible that we may learn how to make such a disk rotate continuously and perform work by the force of gravity without any further effort on our part: but it is perfectly impossible for the disk to turn and do work without any force from the outside. If it could do so, it would be what is designated scientifically as a "perpetuum mobile," a machine creating its own motive power. To make the disk rotate by the force of gravity we have to invent a screen against this force. By such a screen we could prevent this force from acting on one half of the disk, and rotation of the latter would follow. At least, we cannot deny such a possibility until we know exactly the nature of the force of gravity. Suppose that this force were due to a movement comparable to that of a stream of air passing from above toward the centre of the earth. The effect of such a stream upon both halves of the disk would be equal, and the latter would not rotate ordinarily; but if one half should be guarded by a plate arresting the movement, then it would turn. [16]

A screen against gravity? Even now such an idea delights and tantalizes - as does his other assertion that all we needed for free energy was a magnet with one pole, or else a way of shielding magnetism. This assertion has led to much experimentation into "permanent magnet motors" - motors that have no motive force apart from that of their own magnetism, hi the 1920s Werner Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, and the progenitor of the Uncertainty Principle, put forward the idea that we would indeed use magnets as a power source, despite the conventional theory that says magnets are incapable of doing physical work.

One of Tesla's many patents (No. 685,957 filed on 21 March 1901 and granted on 5 November 1901) was for an "Apparatus for the Utilization of Radiant Energy" - a machine to capture the sun's cosmic rays and turn them into electricity. The concept for the device was relatively simple, and involved putting an insulated metal plate as high as possible into the air. A second metal plate is inserted into the ground. Wires are run from both into a capacitor.

The sun, as well as other sources of radiant energy, throws off minute particles of matter positively electrified, which, impinging upon [the upper] plate, communicate continuously an electrical charge to the same. The opposite terminal of the condenser being connected to ground, which may be considered as a vast reservoir of negative electricity, a feeble current flows continuously into the condenser and inasmuch as the particles are charged to a very high potential, this charging of the condenser may continue, as I have actually observed, almost indefinitely, even to the point of rupturing the dielectric. [17]

This simple design for capturing a large electrical charge, and potentially an electrical current, may well have been the starting point for T. Henry Moray (see Chapter 3 of Keith's book - Ed. note) and those who have followed his work to turn "radiant energy" into electrical current. (In Chapter 9 I look at how the radiant energy or "ether" concept has now been updated in the light of modern physics.)

Another fuelless energy device Tesla mentioned in his Century Illustrated article "The Problem of Increasing Human Energy" was a mechanical oscillator, which first appeared in public at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. "On that occasion I exposed the principles of the mechanical oscillator, but the original purpose of this machine is explained here for the first time."[18] Tesla describes how large amounts of heat can be extracted from i the ambient medium using a high-speed oscillator, a steam-driven engine used for producing high-frequency currents.

"My conclusions showed that if an engine of a peculiar kind could be brought to a high degree of perfection, the plan I had conceived was realizable, and I resolved to proceed with the development of such an engine, the primary object of which was to secure the greatest economy of transformation of heat." [19]

Tesla envisioned the mechanical oscillator as part of a technology to capture differentials in energy — a form of energy pump — but he was, it appears, finally defeated not just by the complexities of the other components that would be required, but also by the economics of the project:

"I worked for a long time fully convinced that the practical realization of the method of obtaining energy from the sun would be of incalculable industrial value, but the continued study of the subject revealed the fact that while it will be commercially profitable if my expectations are well founded, it will not be so to an extraordinary degree." [20]

One of the initial spurs for his work on "energy pumps" had been Lord Kelvin, who had stated that it was not possible to build a machine which could extract heat from its surrounding medium and utilize the energy gained to run itself. In one of his many thought experiments Tesla pictured a very tall bundle of metal rods, extending from the earth to outer space. Since the earth is wanner than outer space, heat would be conducted up the metal rods together with an electric current. All that would be required to capture the current would be a very long power cable to connect the two ends of the metal bar each to an electric load such as a battery or motor. A motor should keep running continuously, Tesla believed, until the earth had cooled to the temperature of outer space - something which, depending on the size of such a device, might never happen: "This would be an inanimate engine which, to all evidence, would be cooling a portion of the medium below the temperature of the surrounding, and operating by the heat abstracted." [21] By such means, Tesla contended, such a machine could produce energy without "the consumption of any material" - his key ideal.

Tesla and Faraday's Unipolar Dynamo

Michael Faraday, discoverer of the laws of electromagnetic induction, was the inventor of the first electric motors in the 1830s. One of his stranger, and often neglected, devices was the unipolar dynamo (discussed in Chapter 4 of Keith's book - Ed. note), consisting of a metal disk rotating between magnets in order to produce electrical current. Tesla's involvement with the unipolar, or homopolar generator, led him to believe that it might be capable of acting as a "self-activating" generator. Indeed, in 1889 he filed and received a patent for the "Dynamo Electric Machine" based on Faraday's original design, but with an improved design intended to increase its efficiency by reducing its drag or back torque, Tesla was postulating that if the back torque could be engineered to work in the direction of movement, rather than against it, then the machine could be made self-sustaining. While Tesla was not able to achieve such a feat in his lifetime, his, and Faraday's, ideas were to be picked up by a number of researchers including Bruce DePalma - inventor of the N-machine - in the 1970s and '80s.

These are not the only attempts Tesla made to develop a fuelless energy generator, but just how far he got in his quest is far from clear. Tesla himself clearly stated that he had achieved energy generation from a new energy source on a number of occasions, although he was not always forthcoming about the technology behind his claimed achievement. On 10 July 1931, for instance, The Brooklyn Eagle carried an article in which Tesla was quoted: "I have harnessed the cosmic rays and caused them to operate a motive device. "More than twenty-five years ago I began my efforts to harness the cosmic rays and I can now state that I have succeeded."

On 1 November 1933 Tesla made a similar claim in the New York American, under the headline "Device to Harness Cosmic Energy Claimed by Tesla": "This new power for the driving of the world's machinery will be derived from the energy which operates the universe, the cosmic energy, whose central source for the earth is the sun and which is everywhere present in unlimited quantities."

These two articles, written during Tesla's later creative phase, demonstrate his concern to solve "the energy problem" which he saw before him. While he had been critically responsible for the expansion of electricity use, he also felt a passionate need to conserve the coal reserves for future generations.

In November 1933 he was asked by a journalist from the Philadelphia Public Ledger whether his fuelless technologies would upset the present economic system. "Dr Tesla replied, "It is badly upset already." He added that now as never before was the time ripe for the development of new resources."

Tesla Dynamo

Early Unipolar Dynamo


So why haven't we seen any of these free energy technologies working? There is little doubt that Tesla was one of the great scientific geniuses not just of his own time, but perhaps of the entire twentieth century us well, but the reasons why his technologies were not developed may be complex.

Some researchers have claimed that, like Leonardo da Vinci, he was not just fifty or a hundred years ahead of his time, but perhaps many hundreds of years in advance of contemporary thinking. Scientific and technological ideas need support, both intellectual and financial, if they are to thrive.

Is it possible, then, that new generations of scientists have not been able to develop his visionary ideas into physical technologies? This question bears on the notion of genius in science, as opposed to genius in the arts and other fields of endeavor. While we accept that no one else could have written Beethoven's symphonies or Shakespeare's plays, it seems harder to accept that science is subject to the same vagaries of human beings. Even though Galileo Galilei, Michael Faraday and Albert Einstein possessed unique minds, we often assume that if theyhadn't "come up with" their discoveries someone else would have done the same pretty soon after. Perhaps that assumption is erroneous, or at least, highly limited. If it hadn't been for Tesla it is quite possible that we would have developed a much more primitive and limited electrical system based on small generating stations every few miles.

Once Tesla had brought about one electrical revolution, the world was not ready for another, even more radical development of electrical power. The commercial powers that controlled the electrical landscape - based as it was on a distributed network of copper cable -had no interest in throwing away their investment in favor of the wireless, and potentially costless, transmission and reception of electricity. They seem to have had even less interest in Tesla's ideas of free-energy technologies. T. Henry Moray, who adopted some of Tesla's ideas in his radiant energy device (see Chapter 3 of Keith's book - Ed. note) faced many of the same oppositions that Tesla faced. While we can thank Tesla's genius for bringing distributed Ac electricity to most of the world, we have yet to receive the gift he really wanted to give. In his more enlightened times Tesla himself maintained a balanced view:

"I anticipate that many, unprepared for these results, which, through long familiarity, appear to me simple and obvious, will consider them still far from practical application. Such reserve, and even opposition, of some is as useful a quality and as necessary an element in human progress as the quick receptivity and enthusiasm of others... the scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced idea will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter - for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way." [22]

Eventually on 7 January 1943 Tesla ended his days, alone and poor in a shabby New York hotel where only a few pet pigeons shared his thoughts.

(With a Foreword by Arthur C. Clarke, Keith's book is a fascinating collection of scientific stories on pioneers as Tesla, Moray, Faraday, and many others, along with chapters on Swiss ML Converter, cold fusion, Blacklight Power, zero-point energy, an energy primer, and Tesla patents. - Ed. note)

Keith Tutt can be reached through Street Farm, Topcroft, Bungay, Suffolk, NR35 2BL, UK

[email protected]

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Alternative Energy

Alternative Energy

It seems like the efforts to find the best alternative energy sources are seriously being looked into by lots of countries including most US cities. One proof is the signing of the Kyoto Treaty. The main aim of the concerned group and individuals is to lessen the greenhouse gases and pollutants.

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