The Asian Age
The mad genius that was Nikola Tesla
During the most productive period of his life, Tesla’s feverish brain came up with revolutionary concepts too numerous to compress in one article. His discovery that electric current could travel through the atmosphere without a transmitting medium like a
On October 3, 1915, the New York Times carried a report headlined ‘ Nikola Tesla sees a wireless vision’. The sub- headlines said: ‘ Thinks His ‘ World System’ Will Allow Hundreds To Talk At Once Through The Earth’, and ‘ Inventor Hopes Also To Transmit Pictures By The Same Medium Which Carries The Voice.’
Ring a bell? That is today’s internet and today’s mobile network!
Nikola Tesla, a Serbian American who was born in 1856 and died in 1943 was among the most brilliant scientists of his time, a gilded age that also the blooming of brains like Albert Einstein, Max Planck, the Curies and Neils Bohr.
Eccentric, controversial, somewhat opinionated and not the one to endure fools, Tesla is known more for his famous run- ins with fellow inventor Thomas Alva Edison and his own brilliant concepts which earned him a mindboggling 300 patents.
Few know that most of the gadgets that we take for granted today were products of Tesla’s imagination. Some of them are the radio, transistors, radar, the electric motor, neon lighting, ball lightning and radar.
Perhaps the most revolutionary of his inventions was the alternative current, the electric power that we use today. Till Tesla came up AC current, Edison was the pioneer in the field, struggling to make his DC current concept work. Direct current was a concept requiring more power stations and thick transmission cables that made it uneconomical. Tesla AC current required much thinner cables, and could be trans- mitted for longer distances than DC current. If AC current had not been invented, electrical power would be cosmically costly and would be available to only a few.
During the most productive period of his life, Tesla’s feverish brain came up with revolutionary concepts too numerous to compress in one article. His discovery that electric current could travel through the atmosphere without a transmitting medium like a cable, was the basis of laser, and is now enabling scientists to transmit electric power to earth from power generating stations in space.
His spat with Marconi is well known due to the fact the Tesla sued Marconi for using a total of 17 of his patents in producing the radio. Awarded to Tesla eight months after he died, the court’s judgment stood null and void and the invention of the radio was ultimately awarded to Marconi.
Tesla was also known for his theories on the fairer sex. He proposed the Queen Bees concept — saying that women would ultimately take the most powerful positions in the upper echelons of human society.
Despite his modern views on women and his stunning looks ( he stood at nearly 6ft), Tesla himself never dated anyone as he considered companionship a trivial waste of time. He instead shared a connection with pigeons and spent his spare time feeding them.
But, during his life time, Tesla did not receive the recognition his work deserved. Many see this as the American science community’s refusal to acknowledge a European refugee’s superiority over the home- grown American, Edison. This situation only worsened Tesla’s lifelong mental health problems which ultimately contributed to his demise at the age of 86. Tesla died penniless but left behind a legacy that enthralls technology driven geeks even today.
The rivalry may have been overblown in popular imagination but the fact is that Tesla is not even mentioned in school science textbooks. Many reports say that the Nobel Committee considered Tesla and Edison for sharing the Physics prize in 1915, but both refused to share it with the other.
He may not have got the Nobel, but what would have delighted him is Einstein’s reaction on being asked how he felt at being the smartest man alive. The father of the atom bomb is reported to have replied: “I don’t know. You have to ask Nikola Tesla”.
And to quote the New York Times: ‘ Nikola Tesla announced to The Times last night that he had received a patent on an invention which would not only eliminate static interference, the present bugaboo of wireless telephony, but would enable thousands of persons to talk at once between wireless stations and make it possible for those talking to see one another by wireless, regardless of the distance separating them. He said also that with his wireless station now in the process of construction on Long Island he hoped to make New York one of the central exchanges in a world system of wireless telephony.”
That, to repeat, was a hundred years ago!
The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane. — NIKOLA