Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Scientists can be an eccentric bunch, but Nikola Tesla took everything one step further. Beyond prolific as an inventor, physicist, and electrical engineer, he began his career working for Thomas Edison. In his early years he was afflicted with flashbacks and synesthetic visions which although troubling often gave him answers to problems he was working on. He developed inventions without pen and paper, using the power of his mind to plan visually.
Working for Edison, the story goes, he was offered $50,000 dollars if he could refine and re-engineer Edison’s direct current generators. When he did so, Edison did not pay, instead telling him ‘You don’t understand our American humour. Embittered, Tesla resigned and set to work on his AC polyphase system and went out on his own, developing his own company – Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing. With the new freedom he found, Tesla developed the principals of the Tesla coil, which set the groundwork for a ‘death ray’ developed later, but also allowed wireless electricity to be transmitted. It also produced some quite exciting visual effects. Tesla was also an early developer of X-rays.
Tesla was involved in what is known as the ‘War of Currents’. Edison was a staunch supporter of direct current, which was considered to work better for motors and incandescent lighting – the main uses of electricity at the time. The more complicated alternating current supported by Tesla proved to have more longevity, and is what we use primarily today – another example of his vision. The dispute and rivalry with Edison prevented either of them from receiving a Nobel Prize, despite deserving one and being nominated.
Tesla had been brilliant from a young age – fluent in many languages and expert in his recreational life as his work – he was an impressive card player and held his own against anyone at billiards. He slept little, apparently around two hours a night, and occasionally not at all. He cared deeply for animals, and as a celibate, had little interest in romantic affairs despite being chased by a host of impressed women. As his life went on his neurotic quirks degenerated into obsessive compulsive behaviour, which manifested primarily in an obsession with the number three and a mortal fear of contamination by germs. He survived on an extreme vegetarian diet, allowing himself only milk, bread, and vegetable juice. He lived his last ten years in relative isolation in a New York Hotel room, where he died alone of a blood clot in the heart, penniless despite all his great inventions.
Image courtesy of flickr.com/photos/col_and_tasha
About the Author:
Omar is a historical student working for business energy specialist BusinessElectricity.co.uk. He loves finding out about the technology used to power our world, both in the past and the potentially amazing future.