Twenty First Century Books

Home | Tesla Writings | Tesla Patents | Tesla FAQ | Tesla On AC | Tesla Books | Glossary | Links
Bookstore | Newsletter | Wholesale Book List | Contact Us
| Reference Section | Search | Site Map


by Thomas Commerford Martin

  Previous | Next | TOC

The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla


BEFORE proceeding to study the three Tesla lectures here presented, the reader may find it of some assistance to have his attention directed to the main points of interest and significance therein. The first of these lectures was delivered in New York, at Columbia College, before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, May 20, 1891. The urgent desire expressed immediately from all parts of Europe for an opportunity to witness the brilliant and unusual experiments with which the lecture was accompanied, induced Mr. Tesla to go to England early in 1892, when he appeared before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and a day later, by special request, before the Royal Institution. His reception was of the most enthusiastic and flattering nature on both occasions. He then went, by invitation, to France, and repeated his novel demonstrations before the Societe Internationale des Electriciens, and the Societe Frangaise de Physique. Mr. Tesla returned to America in the fall of 1892, and in February, 1893, delivered his third lecture before the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, in fulfilment of a long standing promise to Prof. Houston. The following week, at the request of President James I. Ayer, of the National Electric Light Association, the same lecture was re-delivered in St. Louis. It had been intended to limit the invitations to members, but the appeals from residents in the city were so numerous and pressing that it became necessary to secure a very large hall. Hence it came about that the lecture was listened to by an audience of over 5,000 people, and was in some parts of a more popular nature than either of its predecessors. Despite this concession to the need of the hour and occasion, Mr. Tesla did not hesitate to show many new and brilliant experiments, and to advance the frontier of discovery far beyond any point he had theretofore marked publicly.

We may now proceed to a running review of the lectures themselves. The ground covered by them is so vast that only the leading ideas and experiments can here be touched upon ; besides, it is preferable that the lectures should be carefully gone over for their own sake, it being more than likely that each student will discover a new beauty or stimulus in them. Taking up the course of reasoning followed by Mr. Tesla in his first lecture, it will be noted that he started out with the recognition of the fact, which he has now experimentally demonstrated, that for the production of light waves, primarily, electrostatic effects must be brought into play, and continued study has led him to the opinion that all electrical and magnetic effects may be referred to electrostatic molecular forces. This opinion finds a singular confirmation in one of the most striking experiments which he describes, namely, the production of a veritable flame by the agitation of electrostatically charged molecules. It is of the highest interest to observe that this result points out a way of obtaining a flame which consumes no material and in which no chemical action whatever takes place. It also throws a light on the nature of the ordinary flame, which Mr. Tesla believes to be due to electrostatic molecular actions, which, if true, would lead directly to the idea that even chemical affinities might be electrostatic in their nature and that, as has already been suggested, molecular forces in general may be referable to one and the same cause. This singular phenomenon accounts in a plausible manner for the unexplained fact that buildings are frequently set on fire during thunder storms without having been at all struck by *\v lightning. It may also explain the total disappearance of ships at sea.

One of the striking proofs of the correctness of the ideas advanced by Mr. Tesla is the fact that, notwithstanding the employment of the most powerful electromagnetic inductive effects, but .feeble luminosity is obtainable, and this only in close proximity to the source of disturbance; whereas, when the electrostatic effects are intensified, the same initial energy suffices to excite luminosity at considerable distances from the source. That there are only electrostatic effects active seems to be clearly proved by Mr. Tesla's experiments with an induction coil operated with alternating currents of very high frequency. He shows how tubes may be made to glow brilliantly at considerable distances from any object when placed in a powerful, rapidly alternating, electrostatic field, and he describes many interesting phenomena observed in such a field. His experiments open up the possibility of lighting an apartment by simply creating in it such an electrostatic field, and this, in a certain way, would appear to be the ideal method of lighting a room, as it would allow the illuminating device to be freely moved about. The power with which these exhausted tubes, devoid of any electrodes, light up is certainly remarkable.

That the principle propounded by Mr. Tesla is a broad one is evident from the many ways in which it may be practically applied. We need only refer to the variety of the devices shown or described, all of which are novel in character and will, without doubt, lead to further important results at the hands of Mr. Tesla and other investigators. The experiment, for instance, of lighting up a single filament or block of refractory material with a single wire, is in itself sufficient to give Mr. Tesla's work the stamp of originality, and the numerous other experiments and effects which may be varied at will, are equally new and interesting. Thus, the incandescent filament spinning in an unexhausted globe, the well-known Crookes experiment on open circuit, and the many others suggested, will not fail to interest the reader. Mr. Tesla has made an exhaustive study of the various forms of the discharge presented by an induction coil when operated with these rapidly alternating currents, starting from the thread-like discharge and passing through various stages to the true electric flame.

A point of great importance in the introduction of high tension alternating current which Mr. Tesla brings out is the necessity of carefully avoiding all gaseous matter in the high tension apparatus. He shows that, at least with very rapidly alternating currents of high potential, the discharge may work through almost any practicable thickness of the best insulators, if air is present. In such cases the air included within the apparatus is violently agitated and by molecular bombardment the parts may be so greatly heated as to cause a rupture of the. insulation. The practical outcome of this is, that, whereas with steady currents, any kind of insulation may be used, with rapidly alternating currents oils will probably be the best to employ, a fact which has been observed, but not until now satisfactorily explained. The recognition of the above fact is of special importance in the construction of the costly commercial induction coils which are often rendered useless in an unaccountable manner.

The truth of these views of Mr. Tesla is made evident by the interesting experiments illustrative of the behavior of the air between charged surfaces, the luminous streams formed by the charged molecules appearing even when great thicknesses of tinbest insulators are interposed between the charged surfaces. These luminous streams afford in themselves a very interesting study for the experimenter. With these rapidly alternating currents they become far more powerful and produce beautiful light effects when they issue from a wire, pinwheel or other object attached to a terminal of the coil ; and it is interesting to note that they issue from a ball almost as freely as from a point, when the frequency is very high.

From these experiments we also obtain a better idea of the importance of taking into account the capacity and self-induction in the apparatus employed and the possibilities offered by the use of condensers in conjunction with alternate currents, the employment of currents of high frequency, among other things, making it possible to reduce the condenser to practicable dimensions. Another point of interest and practical bearing is the fact, proved by Mr. Tesla, that for alternate currents, especially those of high frequency, insulators are required possessing a small specific inductive capacity, which at the same time have a high insulating power.

Mr. Tesla also makes interesting and valuable suggestion in regard to the economical utilization of iron in machines and transformers. He shows how, by maintaining by continuous magnetization a flow of lines through the iron, the latter may be kept near its maximum permeability and a higher output and economy may be secured in such apparatus. This principle may prove of considerable commercial importance in the development of alternating systems. Mr. Tesla's suggestion that the same result can be secured by heating the iron by hysteresis and eddy currents, and increasing the permeability in this manner, while it may appear less practical, nevertheless opens another direction for investigation and improvement.

The demonstration of the fact that with alternating currents of high frequency, sufficient energy may be transmitted under practicable conditions through the glass of an incandescent lamp by electrostatic or electromagnetic induction may lead to a departure in the construction of such devices. Another important i I experimental result achieved is the operation of lamps, and even \ 1 .motors, with the discharges of condensers, this method affording a means of converting direct or alternating currents. In this connection Mr. Tesla advocates the perfecting of apparatus capable of generating electricity of high tension from heat energy, believing this to be a better way of obtaining electrical energy for practical purposes, particularly for the production of light.

While many were probably prepared to encounter curious phenomena of impedance in the use of a condenser discharged disruptively, the experiments shown were extremely interesting on account of their paradoxical character. The burning of an incandescent lamp at any candle power when connected across a heavy metal bar, the existence of nodes on the bar and the possibility of exploring the bar by means of an ordinary Garde w voltmeter, are all peculiar developments, but perhaps the most interesting observation is the phenomenon of impedance observed in the lamp with a straight filament, which remains dark while the bulb glows.

Mr. Tesla's manner of operating an induction coil by means of the disruptive discharge, and thus obtaining enormous differences of potential from comparatively small and inexpensive coils, will be appreciated by experimenters and will find valuable application in laboratories. Indeed, his many suggestions and hints in regard to the construction and use of apparatus in these investigations will be highly valued and will aid materially in future research.

The London lecture was delivered twice. In its first form, before the Institution of Electrical Engineers, it was in some respects an amplification of several points not specially enlarged upon in the JS T ew York lecture, but brought forward many additional discoveries and new investigations. Its repetition, in*.""*] another form, at the Royal Institution, was due to Prof. Dewar, who with Lord Rayleigh, manifested a most lively interest in Mr. Tesla's work, and whose kindness illustrated once more the strong V } English love of scientific truth and appreciation of its votaries. } As an indefatigable experimenter, Mr. Tesla was certainly no*^ where more at home than in the haunts of Faraday, and as the / guest of Faraday's successor. This Royal Institution lecture W summed up the leading points of Mr. Tesla's work, in the high / potential, high frequency field, and we may here avail ourselves J of so valuable a summarization, in a simple form, of a subject by no means easy of comprehension until it has been thoroughly studied.

In these London lectures, among the many notable points made was first, the difficulty of constructing the alternators to obtain, the very high frequencies needed. To obtain the high frequencies it was necessary to provide several hundred polar projections, which were necessarily small and offered many drawbacks, and this the more as exceedingly high peripheral speeds had to be resorted to. In some of the first machines both armature and field had polar projections. These machines produced a curious noise, especially when the armature was started from the state of rest, the field being charged. The most efficient machine was found to be one with a drum armature, the iron body of which consisted of very thin wire annealed with special care. It was, of course, desirable to avoid the employment of iron in the armature, and several machines of this kind, with moving or stationary conductors were constructed, but the results obtained were not quite satisfactory, on account of the great mechanical and other difficulties encountered.

The study of the properties of the high frequency currents obtained from these machines is very interesting, as nearly every experiment discloses something new. Two coils traversed by such a current attract or repel each other with a force which, owing to the imperfection of our sense of touch, seems continuous. An interesting observation, already noted under another form, is that a piece of iron, surrounded by a coil through which the current is passing appears to be continuously magnetized.

This apparent continuity might be ascribed to the deficiency of the sense of touch, but there is evidence that in currents of such high frequencies one of the impulses preponderates over the other.

As might be expected, conductors traversed by such currents are rapidly heated, owing to the increase of the resistance, and the heating effects are relatively much greater in the iron. The hysteresis losses in iron are so great that an iron core, even if finely subdivided, is heated in an incredibly short time. To give an idea of this, an ordinary iron wire *^g* inch in diameter inserted within a coil having 250 turns, with a current estimated to be five amperes passing through the coil, becomes within two seconds' time so hot as to scorch wood. Beyond a certain frequency, an iron core, no matter how finely subdivided, exercises a dampening effect, and it was easy to find a point at which the impedance <>f a coil was not affected by the presence of a core consisting of a bundle of very thin well annealed and varnished iron wires.

Experiments with a telephone, a conductor in a strong magnetic field, or with a condenser or arc, seem to afford certain proof that sounds far above the usually accepted limit of hearing would be perceived if produced with sufficient power. The arc produced by these currents possesses several interesting features. Usually it emits a note the pitch of which corresponds to twice the frequency of the current, but if the frequency be sufficiently high it becomes noiseless, the limit of audition being determined principally by the linear dimensions of the arc. A curious feature of the arc is its persistency, which is due partly to the inability of the gaseous column to cool and increase considerably in resistance, as is the case with low frequencies, and partly to the tendency of such a high frequency machine to maintain a constant current.

In connection with these machines the condenser affords a particularly interesting study. Striking effects are produced by proper adjustments of capacity and self-induction. It is easy to raise the electromotive force of the machine to many times the original value by simply adjusting the capacity of a condenser connected in the induced circuit. If the condenser be at some distance from the machine, the difference of potential on the terminals of the latter may be only a small fraction of that on the condenser.

But the most interesting experiences are gained when the tension of the currents from the machine is raised by means of an induction coil. In consequence of the enormous rate of change obtainable in the primary current, much higher potential differences are obtained than with coils operated in the usual ways, and, owing to the high frequency, the secondary discharge possesses many striking peculiarities. Both the electrodes behave generally alike, though it appears from some observations that one current impulse preponderates over the other, as before mentioned.

The physiological effects of the high tension discharge are found to be so small that the shock of the coil can be supported without any inconvenience, except perhaps a small burn produced by the discharge upon approaching the hand to one of the terminals. The decidedly smaller physiological effects of these currents are thought to be due either to a different distribution through the body or to the tissues acting as condensers. But in the case of an induction coil with a great many turns the harmlessness is principally due to the fact that but little energy is available in the external circuit when the same is closed through the experimenter's body, on account of the great impedance of the coil.

In varying the frequency and strength of the currents through the primary of the coil, the character of the secondary discharge is greatly varied, and no less than five distinct forms are observed : A weak, sensitive thread discharge, a powerful naming discharge, and three forms of brush or streaming discharges. Each of these possesses certain noteworthy features, but the most interesting to study are the latter.

Under certain conditions the streams, which are presumably due to the violent agitation of the air molecules, issue freely from all points of the coil, even through a thick insulation. If there is the smallest air space between the primary and secondary, they will form there and surely injure the coil by slowly warming the insulation. As they form even with ordinary frequencies when the potential is excessive, the air-space must be most carefully avoided. These high frequency streamers differ in aspect and properties from those produced by a static machine. The wind produced by them is small and should altogether cease if still considerably higher frequencies could be obtained. A peculiarity is that they issue as freely from surfaces as from points. ( hving to this, a metallic vane, mounted in one of the terminals of the coil so as to rotate freely, and having one of its sides covered with insulation, is spun rapidly around. Such a vane would not rotate with a steady potential, but with a high frequency coil it will spin, even if it be entirely covered with insulation, provided the insulation on one side be either thicker or of a higher specific inductive capacity. A Crookes electric radiometer is also spun around when connected to one of the terminals of the coil, but only at very high exhaustion or at ordinary pressures.

There is still another and more striking peculiarity of such a high frequency streamer, namely, it is hot. The heat is easily perceptible with frequencies of about 10,000, even if the potential is not excessively high. The heating effect is, of course, due to the molecular impacts and collisions. Could the frequency and potential be pushed far enough, then a brush could be produced resembling in every particular a flame and giving light and heat, jet without a chemical process taking place.

The hot brush, when properly produced, resembles a jet of burning gas escaping under great pressure, and it emits an extraordinary strong smell of ozone. The great ozonizing action is ascribed to the fact that the agitation of the molecules of the air is more violent in such a brush than in the ordinary streamer of a static machine. But the most powerful brush discharges were produced by employing currents of much higher frequencies than it was possible to obtain by means of the alternators. These currents were obtained by disruptively discharging a condenser and setting up oscillations. In this manner currents of a frequency of several hundred thousand were obtained.

Currents of this kind, Mr. Tesla pointed out, produce striking effects. At these frequencies, the impedance of a copper bar is so great that a potential difference of several hundred volts can be maintained between two points of a short and thick bar, and it is possible to keep an ordinary incandescent lamp burning at full candle power by attaching the terminals of the lamp to two points of the bar no more than a few inches apart, When the frequency is extremely high, nodes are found to exist on such a bar, and it is easy to locate them by means of a lamp.

By converting the high tension discharges of a low frequency coil in this manner, it was found practicable to keep a few lamps burning on the ordinary circuit in the laboratory, and by bringing the undulation to a low pitch, it was possible to operate small motors.

This plan likewise allows of converting high tension discharges of one direction into low tension unidirectional currents, by adjusting the circuit so that there are no oscillations. In passing the oscillating discharges through the primary of a specially constructed coil, it is easy to obtain enormous potential differences with only few turns of the secondary.

Great difficulties were at first experienced in producing a successful coil on this plan. It was found necessary to keep all air, or gaseous matter in general, away from the charged surfaces, and oil immersion was resorted to. The wires used were heavily covered with gutta-percha and wound in oil, or the air was pumped out by means of a Sprengel pump. The general arrangement was the following: An ordinary induction coil, operated from a low frequency alternator, was used to charge Leyden jars. The jars were made to discharge over a single or multiple gap through the primary of the second coil. To insure the action of the gap, the arc was blown out by a magnet or air blast. To adjust the potential in the secondary a small oil condenser was used, or polished brass spheres of different sizes were screwed on the terminals and their distance adjusted.

When the conditions were carefully determined to suit each experiment, magnificent effects were obtained. Two wires, stretched through the room, each being connected to one of the terminals of the coil, emitted streams so powerful that the light from them allowed distinguishing the objects in the room ; the wires became luminous even though covered with thick and most excellent insulation. When two straight wires, or two concentric circles of wire, are connected to the terminals, and set at the proper distance, a uniform luminous sheet is produced between them. It was possible in this way to cover an ana of more than one meter square completely with the streams. By attaching to one terminal a large circle of wire and to the other terminal a small sphere, the streams are focused upon the sphere, produce a strongly lighted spot upon the same, and present the appearance of a luminous cone. A very thin wire glued upon a plate of hard rubber of great thickness, on the opposite side of which is fastened a tinfoil coating, is rendered intensely luminous when the coating is connected to the other terminal of the coil. Such an experiment can be performed also with low frequency currents, but much less satisfactorily.

When the terminals of such a coil, even of a very small one, are separated by a rubber or glass plate, the discharge spreads over the plate in the form of streams, threads or brilliant sparks, and affords a magnificent display, which cannot be equaled by the largest coil operated in the usual ways. By a simple adjustment it is possible to produce with the coil a succession of brilliant sparks, exactly as with a Holtz machine.

Under certain conditions, when the frequency of the oscillation is very great, white, phantom-like streams are seen to break forth from the terminals of the coil. The chief interesting feature about them is, that they stream freely against the outstretched hand or other conducting object without producing any sensation, and the hand may be approached very near to the terminal without a spark being induced to jump. This is due presumably to the fact that a considerable portion of the energy is carried away or dissipated in the streamers, and the difference of potential between the terminal and the hand is diminished.

It is found in such experiments that the frequency of the vibration and the quickness of succession of the sparks between the knobs affect to a marked degree the appearance of the streams. When the frequency is very low, the air gives way in more or less the same manner as by a steady difference of potential, and the streams consist of distinct threads, generally mingled with thin sparks, which probably correspond to the successive discharges occurring between the knobs. But when the frequency is very high, and the arc of the discharge produces a sound which is loud and smooth (which indicates both that oscillation takes place and that the sparks succeed each other with great rapidity), then the luminous streams formed are perfectly uniform. They are generally of a purplish hue, but when the molecular vibration is increased by raising the potential, they assume a white color.

The luminous intensity of the streams increases rapidly when the potential is increased; and with frequencies of only a few hundred thousand, could the coil be made to withstand a sufficiently high potential difference, there is no doubt that the space around a wire could be made to emit a strong light, merely by the agitation of the molecules of the air at ordinary pressure.

Such discharges of very high frequency which render luminous the air at ordinary pressure we have very likely occasion to witness in the aurora borealis. From many of these experiments it seems reasonable to infer that sudden cosmic disturbances, such as eruptions on the sun, set the electrostatic charge of the earth in an extremely rapid vibration, and produce the glow by the violent agitation of the air in the upper and even in the lower strata. It is thought that if the frequency were low? or even more so if the charge were not at all vibrating, the lower dense strata would break down as in a lightning discharge. Indications of such breaking down have been repeatedly observed, but they can be attributed to the fundamental disturbances, which are few in number, for the superimposed vibration would be so rapid as not to allow a disruptive break.

The study of these discharge phenomena has led Mr. Tesla to the recognition of some important facts. It was found, as already stated, that uascous matter must be most carefully excluded from any dielectric which is subjected to great, rapidly changing electrostatic stresses. Since it is difficult to exclude the gas perfectly when solid insulators are used, it is necessary to resort to liquid dielectrics. When a solid dielectric is used, it matters little how thick and how good it is; if air be present, streamers form, which gradually heat the dielectric and impair its insulating power, and the discharge finally breaks through. Under ordinary conditions the best insulators are those which possess the highest specific inductive capacity, but such insulators are not the best to employ when working with these high frequency currents, for in most cases the higher specific inductive capacity is rather a disadvantage. The prime quality of the insulating medium for these currents is continuity. For this reason principally it is necessary to employ liquid insulators, such as oils. If two metal plates, connected to the terminals of the coil, are immersed in oil and set a distance apart, the coil may be kept working for any length of time without a break occurring, or without the oil being warmed, but if air bubbles are introduced, they become luminous ; the air molecules, by their impact against the oil, heat it, and after some time cause the insulation to give way. If, instead of the oil, a solid plate of the best dielectric, even several times thicker than the oil intervening between the metal plates, is inserted between the latter, the air having free access to the charged surfaces, the dielectric i variably is warmed and breaks down.

The employment of oil is advisable or necessary even with low frequencies, if the potentials are such that streamers form, but only in such cases, as is evident from the theory of the action. If the potentials are so low that streamers do not form, then it is even disadvantageous to employ oil, for it may, principally by confining the heat, be the cause of the breaking down of the insulation.

The exclusion of gaseous matter is not only desirable on account of the safety of the apparatus, but also on account of economy, especially in a condenser, in which considerable waste of power may occur merely owing to the presence of air, if the electric density on the charged surfaces is great.

In the course of these investigations a phenomenon of special scientific interest was observed. It may be ranked among the brush phenomena, in fact it is a kind of brush which forms at, or near, a single terminal in high vacuum. In a bulb with a conducting electrode, even if the latter be of aluminum, the brush has only a very short existence, but it can be preserved for a considerable length of time in a bulb devoid of any conducting electrode. To observe the phenomenon it is found best to employ a large spherical bulb having in its centre a small bulb supported on a tube sealed to the neck of the former. The large bulb being exhausted to a high degree, and the inside of the small bulb being connected to one of the terminals of the coil, under certain conditions there appears a misty haze around the small bulb, which, after passing through some stages, assumes the form of a brush, generally at right angles to the tube supporting the small bulb. When the brush assumes this form it may be brought to a state of extreme sensitiveness to electrostatic and magnetic influence. The bulb hanging straight down, and all objects being remote from it, the approach of the observer within a few paces will cause the brush to fly to the opposite side, and if he walks around the bulb it will always keep on the opposite side. It may begin to spin around the terminal long before it reaches that sensitive stage. When it begins to turn around, principally, but also before, it is affected by a magnet, and at a certain stage it is susceptible to magnetic influence to an astonishing degree. A small permanent magnet, with its poles at a distance of no more than two centimetres will affect it visibly at a distance of two metres, slowing down or accelerating the rotation according to how it is held relatively to the brush.

When the bulb hangs with the globe down, the rotation is always clockwise. In the southern hemisphere it would occur in the opposite direction, and on the (magnetic) equator the brush should not turn at all. The rotation may be reversed by a magnet kept at some distance. The brush rotates best, seemingly, when it is at right angles to the lines of force of the earth. It, very likely rotates, when at its maximum speed, in synchronism with the alternations, say, 10,000 times a second. The rotation can be slowed down or accelerated by the approach or recession of the observer, or any conducting body, but it cannot be reversed by putting the bulb in any position. Very curious experiments may be performed with the brush when in its most sensitive state. For instance, the brush resting in one position, the experimenter may, by selecting a proper position, approach the hand at a certain considerable distance to the bulb, and he may cjuisi' the brush to pass oft bv merely stiffening the muscles of the arm, the mere change of configuration of the arm and the consequent imperceptible displacement being sufficient to disturb the delicate balance. When it begins to rotate slowly, and tinhands are held at a proper distance, it is impossible to make even the slightest motion without producing a visible effect upon the brush. A metal plate connected to the other terminal of the coil affects it at a great distance, slowing down the rotation often to one turn a second.

Mr. Tesla hopes that this phenomenon will prove a valuable aid in the investigation of the nature of the forces acting in an electrostatic or magnetic field. If there is any motion which is measurable going on in the space, such a brush would be apt to reveal it. It is, so to speak, a beam of light, frictionless, devoid of inertia. On account of its marvellous sensitiveness to electrostatic or magnetic disturbances it may be the means of sending signals through submarine cables with any speed, and even of transmitting intelligence to a .distance without wires.

In operating an induction coil with these rapidly alternating currents, it is astonishing to note, for the first time, the great importance of the relation of capacity, self-induction, and frequency as bearing upon the general result. The combined effect of these elements produces many curious effects. For instance. two metal plates are connected to the terminals and set at a small distance, so that an arc is formed between them. This arc />/vvents a strong current from flowing through the coil. If the artbe interrupted by the interposition of a glass plate, the capacity of the condenser obtained counteracts the self-induction, and a stronger current is made to pass. The effects of capacity are the most striking, for in these experiments, since the self-induction and frequency both are high, the critical capacity is very small, and need be but slightly varied to produce a very considerable change. The experimenter brings his body in contact with the terminals of the secondary of the coil, or attaches to one or both terminals insulated bodies of very small bulk, such as exhausted bulbs, and he produces a considerable rise or fall of potential on the secondary, and greatly affects the flow of the current through the primary coil.

In many of the phenomena observed, the presence of the air, or, generally speaking, of a medium of a gaseous nature (using this term not to imply specific properties, but in contradistinction to homogeneity or perfect continuity) plays an important part, as it allows energy to be dissipated by molecular impact or bombardment. The action is thus explained: When an insulated body connected to a terminal of the coil is suddenly charged to high potential, it acts inductively upon the surrounding air, or whatever gaseous medium there might be. The molecules or atoms which are near it are, of course, more attracted, and move through a greater distance than the further ones. When the nearest molecules strike the body they are repelled, and collisions occur at all distances within the inductive distance. It is now clear that, if the potential be steady, bat little loss of energy can be caused in this way, for the molecules which are nearest to the body having had an additional charge imparted to them by contact, are not attracted until they have parted, if not with all, at least with most of the additional charge, which can be accomplished only after a great many collisions. This is inferred from the fact that with a steady potential there is but little loss in dry air. When the potential, instead of being steady, is alternating, the conditions are entirely different. In this case a rhythmical bombardment occurs, no matter whether the molecules after coming in contact with the body lose the imparted charge or not, and, what is more, if the charge is not lost, the impacts are all the more violent. Still, if the frequency of the impulses be very small, the loss caused by the impacts and collisions would not be serious unless the potential was excessive. But when extremely high frequencies and more or less high potentials are used, the loss may be very great, The total energy lost per unit of time is proportionate to the product of the number of impacts per second, or the frequency and the energy lost in each impact. But the energy of an impact must be proportionate to the square of the electric density of the body, on the assumption that the charge imparted to the molecule is proportionate to that density. It is concluded from this that the total energy lost must be proportionate to the product of the frequency and the square of the electric density; but this law needs experimental confirmation. Assuming the preceding considerations to be true, then, by rapidly alternating the potential of a body immersed in an insulating gaseous medium, any amount of energy may be dissipated into space. Most of that energy, then, is not dissipated in the form of long ether waves, propagated to considerable distance, as is thought most generally, but is consumed in impact and collisional losses that is, heat vibrations on the surface and in the vicinity of the body. To reduce the dissipation it is necessary to work with a small electric density the smaller, the higher the frequency.

The behavior of a gaseous medium to such rapid alternations of potential makes it appear plausible that electrostatic disturbances of the earth, produced by cosmic events, may have great influence upon the meteorological condition^. When such disturbances occur both the frequency of the vibrations of the charge and the potential are in all probability excessive, and the energy converted into heat may be considerable. Since the density must be unevenly distributed, either in consequence of the irregularity of the earth's surface, or on account of the condition of the atmosphere in various places, the effect produced would accordingly vary from place to place. Considerable variations in the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere may in this manner be caused at any point of the surface of the earth. The variations may be gradual or very sudden, according to the nature of the original disturbance, and may produce rain and storms, or locally modify the weather in any way.

From many experiences gathered in the course of these investigations it appears certain that in lightning discharges the air is an element of importance. For instance, during a storm a stream may form on a nail or pointed projection of a building. If lightning strikes somewhere in the neighborhood* the harmless static discharge may, in consequence of the oscillations set up, assume the character of a high-frequency streamer, and the nail or projection may be brought to a high temperature by the violent impact of the air molecules. Thus, it is thought, a building may be set on fire without the lightning striking it. In like manner small metallic objects may be fused and volatilized as frequently occurs in lightning discharges merely because they are surrounded by air. Were they immersed in a practically continuous medium, such as oil, they would probably be safe, as the energy would have to spend itself elsewhere.

An instructive experience having a bearing on this subject is the following: A glass tube of an inch or so in diameter and several inches long is taken, and a platnium wire sealed into it, the wire running through the center of the tube from end to end. The tube is exhausted to a moderate degree. If a steady current is passed through the wire it is heated uniformly in all parts and the gas in the tube is of no consequence. But if high frequency discharges are directed through the wire, it is heated more on the ends than in the middle portion, and if the frequency, or rate of charge, is high enough, the wire might as well be cut in the middle as not, for most of the heating on the ends is due to the rarefied gas. Here the gas might only act as a conductor of no impedance, diverting the current from the wire as the impedance of the latter is enormously increased, and merely heating the ends of the wire by reason of their resistance to the passage of the discharge. But it is not at all necessary that the gas in the tube should he conducting ; it might be at an extremely low pressure, still the ends of the wire would be heated ; however, as is ascertained by experience, only the two ends would in such case not be electrically connected through the gaseous medium. Now, what with these frequencies and potentials occurs in an exhausted tube, occurs in the lightning discharge at ordinary pressure.

From the facility with which any amount of energy may be carried off through a gas, Mr. Tesla infers that the best w T ay to render harmless a lightning discharge is to afford it in some way a passage through a volume of gas.

The recognition of some of the above facts has a bearing upon far-reaching scientific investigations in which extremely high frequencies and potentials are used. In such cases the air is an important factor to be considered. So, for instance, if two wires are attached to the terminals of the coil, and the streamers issue from' them, there is dissipation of energy in the form of heat and light, and the wires behave like a condenser of larger capacity. If the wires be immersed in oil, the dissipation of energy is prevented, or at least reduced, and the apparent capacity is diminished. The action of the air would seem to make it very difficult to tell, from the measured or computed capacity of a condenser in which the air is acted upon, its actual capacity or vibration period, especially if the condenser is of very small surface and is charged to a very high potential. As many important results are dependant upon the correctness of the estimation of the vibration period, this subject demands the most careful scrutiny of investigators.

In Leyden jars the loss due to the presence of air is comparatively small, principally on account of the great surface of the coatings and the small external action, but if there are streamers on the top, the loss may be considerable, and the period of vibration is affected. In a resonator, the density is small, but the frequency is extreme, and may introduce a considerable error. It appears certain, at any rate, that the periods of vibration of a charged body in a gaseous and in a continuous medium, such as oil, are different, on account of the action of the former, as explained.

Another fact recognized, which is of some consequence, is, that in similar investigations the general considerations of static screening are not applicable when a gaseous medium is present. This is evident from the following experiment : A short and wide glass tube is taken and covered with a substantial coating of bronze powder, barely allowing the light to shine a little through. The tube is highly exhausted and suspended on a metallic clasp from the end of a wire. When the wire is connected with one of the terminals of the coil, the gas inside of the tube is lighted in spite of the metal coating. Here the metal evidently does not screen the gas inside as it ought to, even if it be very thin and poorly conducting. Yet, in a condition of rest the metal coating, however thin, screens the inside perfectly.

One of the most interesting results arrived at in pursuing these experiments, is the demonstration of the fact that a gaseous medium, upon which vibration is impressed by rapid changes of electrostatic potential, is rigid. In illustration of this result an experiment made by Mr. Tesla may by cited : A glass tube about one inch in diameter and three feet long, with outside condenser coatings on the ends, was exhausted to a certain point, when, the tube being suspended freely from a wire connecting the upper coating to one of the terminals of the coil, the discharge appeared in the form of a luminous thread passing through the axis of the tube. Usually the thread was sharply defined in the upper part of the tube and lost itself in the lower part. When a magnet or the finger was quickly passed near the upper part of the luminous thread, it was brought out of position by magnetic or electrostatic influence, and a transversal vibration like that of a suspended cord, with one or more distinct nodes, was set up, which lasted for a few minutes and gradually died out. By suspending from the lower condenser coating metal plates of different sizes, the speed of the vibration was varied. This vibration would seem to show beyond doubt that the thread possessed rigidity, at least to transversal displacements.

Many experiments were tried to demonstrate this property in air at ordinary pressure. Though no positive evidence has been obtained, it is thought, nevertheless, that a high frequency brush or streamer, if the frequency could be pushed far enough, would be decidedly rigid. A small sphere might then be moved within it quite freely, but if tin*own against it the sphere would rebound. An ordinary flame cannot possess rigidity to a marked degree because the vibration is directionless ; but an electric arc, it is believed, must possess that property more or less. A luminous band excited in a bulb by repeated discharges of a Leyden jar must also possess rigidity, and if deformed and suddenly released should vibrate.

From like considerations other conclusions of interest are readied. The most probable medium filling the space is one consisting of independent carriers immersed in an insulating fluid. If through' this medium enormous electrostatic stresses are assumed to act, which vary rapidly in intensity, it would allow the motion of a body through it, yet it would be rigid and elastic, although the fluid itself might be devoid of these properties. Furthermore, on the assumption that the independent carriers are of any configuration such that the fluid resistance to motion in one direction is greater than in another, a stress of that nature would cause the carriers to arrange themselves in groups, since they would turn to each other their sides of the greatest electric density, in which position the fluid resistance to approach would be smaller than to receding. If in a medium of the above characteristics a brush would be formed by a steady potential, an exchange of the carriers would go on continually, and there would be less carriers per unit of volume in the brush than in the space at some distance from the electrode, this corresponding to rarefaction. If the potential were rapidly changing, the result would be very different ; the higher the freqency of the pulses, the slower would be the exchange of the carriers ; finally, the motion of translation through measurable space would cease, and, with a sufficiently high frequency and intensity of the stress, the carriers would be drawn towards the electrode, and compression would result.

An interesting feature of these high frequency currents is that they allow of operating all kinds of devices by connecting the device with only one leading wire to the electric source. In fact, under certain conditions it may be more economical to supply the electrical energy witli one lead than with two.

An experiment of special interest shown by Mr. Tesla, is the running, by the use of only one insulated line, of a motor operating on the principle of the rotating magnetic field enunciated by Mr. Tesla. A simple form of such a motor is obtained by winding upon a laminated iron core a primary and close to it a secondary coil, closing the ends of the latter and placing a freely movable metal disc within the influence of the moving field. The secondary coil may, however, be omitted. When one of the ends of the primary coil of the motor is connected to one of the terminals of the high frequency coil arid the other end to an insulated metal plate, which, it should be stated, is not absolutely necessary for the success of the experiment, the disc is set in rotation.

Experiments of this kind seem to bring it within possibility to operate a motor at any point of the earth's surface from a central source, without any connection to the same except through the earth. If, by means of powerful machinery, rapid variations of the earth's potential were produced, a grounded wire reaching up to some height would be traversed by a current which could be increased by connecting the free end of the wire to a body of some size. The current might be converted to low tension and used to operate a motor or other device. The experiment, which would be one of great scientific interest, would probably best succeed on a ship at sea. In this manner, even if it were not possible to operate machinery, intelligence might be transmitted quite certainly.

In the course of this experimental study special attention was devoted to the heating effects produced by these currents, which are not only striking, but open up the possibility of producing a more efficient illuminant. It is sufficient to attach to the coil terminal a thin wire or filament, to have the temperature of the latter perceptibly raised. If the wire or filament be enclosed in a bulb, the heating effect is increased by preventing the circulation of the air. If the air in the bulb be strongly compressed, the displacements are smaller, the impacts less violent, and the heating effect is diminished. On the contrary, if the air in the bulb be exhausted, an inclosed lamp filament is brought to incandescence, and any amount of light may thus be produced.

The heating of the inclosed lamp filament depends on so many things of a different nature, that it is difficult to give a generally applicable rule under which the maximum heating occurs. As regards the size of the bull), it is ascertained that at ordinary or only slightly differing atmospheric pressures, when air is a good insulator, the filament is heated more in a small bulb, because of the better confinement of heat in this case. At lower pressures, when air becomes conducting, the heating effect is greater in a large bull), but at excessively high degrees of exhaustion there seems to be, beyond a certain and rather small size of the vessel, no perceptible difference in the heating.

The shape of the vessel is also of some importance, and it has been found of advantage for reasons of economy to employ a spherical bulb with the electrode mounted in its centre, where the rebounding molecules collide.

It is desirable on account of economy that all the energy supplied to the bulb from the source should reach without loss the body to be heated. The loss in conveying the energy from the source to the body may be reduced by employing thin wires heavily coated with insulation, and by the use of electrostatic screens. It is to be remarked, that the screen, cannot be connected to the ground as under ordinary conditions.

In the bulb itself a large portion of the energy' supplied may be lost by molecular bombardment against the wire connecting the body to be heated with the source. Considerable improvement was effected by covering the glass stem containing the wire with a closely fitting conducting tube. This tube is made to project a little above the glass, and prevents the cracking of the latter near the heated body. The effectiveness of the conducting tube is limited to very high degrees of exhaustion. It diminishes the energy lost in bombardment for two reasons; first, the charge given up by the atoms spreads over a greater area, and hence the electric density at any point is small, and the atoms are repelled with less energy than if they would strike against a good insulator; secondly, as the tube is electrified by the atoms which first come in contact with it, the progress of the following atoms against the tube is more or less checked by the repulsion which the electrified tube must exert upon the similarly electrified atoms. This, it is thought, explains why the discharge through a bulb is established with much greater facility when an insulator, than when a conductor, is present.

During the investigations a great many bulbs of different construction, with electrodes of different material, were experimented upon, and a number of observations of interest were made. Mr. Tesla has found that the deterioration of the electrode is the less, the higher the frequency. This was to be expected, as then the heating is effected by many small impacts, instead by fewer and more violent ones, which quickly shatter the structure. The deterioration is also smaller when the vibration is harmonic. Thus an electrode, maintained at a certain degree of heat, lasts much longer with currents obtained from an alternator, than with those obtained by means of a disruptive discharge. One of the most durable electrodes was obtained from strongly compressed carborundum, which is a kind of carbon recently produced by Mr. E. G. Acheson, of Monongahela City, Pa. From experience, it is inferred, that to be most durable, the electrode should be in the form of a sphere with a highly polished surface.

In some bulbs refractory bodies were mounted in a carbon cup and put under the molecular impact. It was observed in such experiments that the carbon cup was heated at first, until a higher temperature was reached; then most of the bombardment was directed against the refractory body, and the carbon was relieved. In general, when different bodies were mounted in the bulb, the hardest fusible would be relieved, and would remain at a considerably lower temperature. This was necessitated by the fact that most of the energy supplied would find its way through the body \vhioh was more easily fused or "evaporated."

Curiously enough it appeared in some of the experiments made, that a body was fused in a bulb under the molecular impact by evolution" of less light than when fused by the application of heat in ordinary ways. This may be ascribed to a loosening of the structure of the body under the violent impacts and changing stresses.

Some experiments seem to indicate that under certain conditions a body, conducting or nonconducting, may, when bombarded, emit light, which to all appearances is due to phosphorescence, but may in reality be caused by the incandescence of an infinitesimal layer, the mean temperature of the body being comparatively small. Such might be the case if each single rhythmical impact were capable of instantaneously exciting the retina, and the rhythm were just high enough to cause a continuous impression in the eye. According to this view, a coil operated by disruptive discharge would be eminently adapted to produce such a result, and it is found by experience that its power of exciting phosphorescence is extraordinarily great. It is capable of exciting phosphorescence at comparatively low degrees of exhaustion, and also projects shadows at pressures far greater than those at which the mean free path is comparable to the dimensions of the vessel. The latter observation is of some importance, inasmuch as it may modify the generally accepted views in regard to the "radiant state" phenomena.

A thought which early and naturally suggested itself to JVI r. Tesla, was to utilize the great inductive effects of high frequency currents to produce light in a sealed glass vessel without the use of leading in wires. Accordingly, many bulbs were constructed in which the energy necessary to maintain a button or filament at high incandescence, was supplied through the glass by either electrostatic or electrodynamic induction. It was easy to regulate the intensity of the light emitted by means of an externally applied condenser coating connected to an insulated plate, or simply by means of a plate attached to the bulb which at the same time performed the function of a shade.

A subject of experiment, which has been exhaustively treated in England by Prof. J. J. Thomson, has been followed up independently by Mr. Tesla from the beginning of this study, namely, to excite by electrodynamic induction a luminous band in a closed tube or bulb. In observing the behavior of gases, and the luminous phenomena obtained, the importance of the electrostatic effects was noted and it appeared desirable to produce enormous potential differences, alternating with extreme rapidity. Experiments in this direction led to some of the most interesting results arrived at in the course of these investigations. It was found that by rapid alternations of a high electrostatic potential, exhausted tubes could be lighted at considerable distances from a conductor connected to a properly constructed coil, and that it was practicable to establish with the coil an alternating electrostatic field, acting through the whole room and lighting a tube wherever it was placed within the four walls. Phosphorescent bulbs may be excited in such a field, and it is easy to regulate the effect by connecting to the bulb a small insulated metal plate. It was likewise possible to maintain a filament or button mounted in a tube at bright incandescence, and, in one experiment, a mica vane was spun by the incandescence of a platinum wire.

Coming now to the lecture delivered in Philadelphia and St. Louis, it may be remarked that to the superficial reader, Mr. Tesla's introduction, dealing with the importance of the eye, might appear as a digression, but the thoughtful reader will find therein much food for meditation and speculation. Throughout his discourse one can trace Mr. Tesla's effort to present in a popular way thoughts and views on the electrical phenomena which have in recent years captivated the scientific world, but of which the general public has even yet merely received an inkling. Mr. Tesla also dwells rather extensively on his well-known method of high-frequency conversion ; and the large amount of detail information will be gratefully received by students and experimenters in this virgin field. The employment of apt analogies in explaining the fundamental principles involved makes it easy for all to gain a clear idea of their nature. Again, the ease with which, thanks to Mr. Tesla's efforts, these high-frequency currents may now be obtained from circuits carrying almost any kind of current, cannot fail to result in an extensive broadening of this field of research, which offers so many possibilities. M r. Tesla, true philosopher as he is, does not hesitate to point out defects in some of his methods, and indicates the lines which to him seem the most promising. Particular stress is laid by him upon the employment of a medium in which the discharge electrodes should be immersed in order that this method of conversion may be brought to the highest perfection. He has evidently taken pains to give as much useful information as possible to those who wish to follow in his path, as he shows in detail the circuit arrangements to be adopted in all ordinary cases met with in practice, and although some of these methods were described by him two years before, the additional information is still timely and welcome.

In his experiments he dwells first on some phenomena produced by electrostatic force, which he considers in the light of modern theories to be the most important force in nature for us to investigate. At the very outset he shows a strikingly novel experiment illustrating the effect of a rapidly varying electrostatic force in a gaseous medium, by touching with one hand one of the terminals of a 200,000 volt transformer and bringing tinother hand to the opposite terminal. The powerful streamers which issued from his hand and astonished his audiences formed a capital illustration of some of the views advanced, and afforded Mr. Tesla an opportunity of pointing out the true reasons why, with these currents, such an amount of energy can be passed through the body with impunity. He then showed by experiment the difference between a steady and a rapidly varying force upon the dielectric. This difference is most strikingly illustrated in the experiment in which a bulb attached to the end of a wire in connection with one of the terminals of the transformer is ruptured, although all extraneous bodies are remote from the bulb. He next illustrates how mechanical motions are produced by a varying electrostatic force acting through a gaseous medium. The importance of the action of the air is particularly illustrated by an interesting experiment.

Taking up another class of phenomena, namely, those of dynamic electricity, Mr. Tesla produced in a number of experiments a variety of effects by the employment of only a single wire with the evident intent of impressing upon his audience the idea that electric vibration or current can be transmitted witli ease, without any return circuit ; also how currents so transmitted can be converted and used for many practical purposes. A number of experiments are then shown, illustrating the effects of frequency, self-induction and capacity; then a number of ways of operating motive and other devices by the use of a single lead. A number of novel impedance phenomena are also shown which cannot fail to arouse interest.

Mr. Tesla next dwelt upon a subject which he thinks of great importance, that is, electrical resonance, which he explained in a popular way. He expressed his firm conviction that by observing proper conditions, intelligence, and possibly even power, can be transmitted through the medium or through the earth; and he considers this problem worthy of serious and immediate consideration.

Coming now to the light phenomena in particular, lie illustrated the four distinct kinds of these phenomena in an original way, which to many must have been a revelation. Mr. Tesla attributes these light effects to molecular or atomic impacts produced by a varying electrostatic stress in a gaseous medium. Fie illustrated in a series of novel experiments the effect of the gas surrounding the conductor and shows beyond a doubt that with high frequency and high potential currents, the surrounding gas is of paramount importance in the heating of the conductor. He attributes the heating partially to a conduction current and partially to bombardment, and demonstrates that in many cases the heating may be practically due to the bombardment alone. He pointed out also that the skin effect is largely modified by the presence of the gas or of an atomic medium in general. He showed also some interesting experiments in which the effect of convection is illustrated. Probably one of the most curious experiments in this connection is that in which a thin platinum wire stretched along the axis of an exhausted tube is brought to incandescence at certain points corresponding to the position of the striae, while at others it remains dark. This experiment throws an interesting light upon the nature of the strife and may lead to important revelations.

Mr. Tesla also demonstrated the dissipation of energy through an atomic medium and dwelt upon the behavior of vacuous space in conveying heat, and in this connection showed the curious behavior of an electrode stream, from which he concludes that the molecules of a gas probably cannot be acted upon directly at measurable distances.

Mr. Tesla summarized the chief results arrived at in pursuing his investigations in a manner which will serve as a valuable guide to all who may engage in this work. Perhaps most interest will centre on his general statements regarding the phenomena of phosphorescence, the most important fact revealed in this direction being that when exciting a phosphorescent bulb a certain definite potential gives the most economical result.

The lectures will now be presented in the order of their date of delivery.

1pixclear.gif (44 bytes) Top | Previous | Next | TOC | Tesla Patents 

Home | Tesla Writings | Tesla Patents | Tesla FAQ | Tesla On AC | Tesla Books | Glossary | Links
Bookstore | Newsletter | Wholesale Book List | Contact Us
| Reference Section | Search | Site Map



21st Century Books
Post Office Box 2001
Breckenridge, CO 80424-2001

1998-2013 Twenty-First Century Books, Colorado
All Rights Reserved