Happy Birthday Nicola Tesla!

Today is the 153rd birthday of the very famous scientist, Nicola Tesla. I don’t really know a lot about Tesla, except that he invented the Tesla coil. And, actually, I didn’t really know what that was. So, I did some research and wow, Tesla is a fascinating guy! He invented remote controlled devices over 100 years ago, which was the birth of robotics!

Tesla is also the inventor and genius behind so many things that we take for granted today. He is considered one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity. Before Tesla, Edison had invented a relatively inefficient kind of electricity called direct current, or DC. But Tesla’s alternating current (AC) electricity is more efficient, and it’s what we still use today all over the world.

Okay, so what is a Tesla coil? A Tesla coil creates electricity with very high frequencies and high voltages. Thanks to this, Tesla created neon and fluorescent lights, plus the first x-ray photograph. He also created the first radio transmissions, which is something we definitely take for granted today. But think about it — radio transmissions are sending electricity through the air. Back when Tesla figured that out, it was kind of like magic!

He invented the idea of remote control and introduced it to the world by showing off a remote controlled boat. In an time when only a handful of people knew about radio waves, some thought that Tesla was controlling the little boat with his mind. But really, he was sending signals to the boat using a small box with control levers on the side. We do it all the time now (when was the last time you got up to turn the TV channel?), but it was completely astonishing 100 years ago!

We actually have a Tesla coil at the Saskatchewan Science Centre. We use it to demonstrate lightning on the third floor of our building. I went over there this morning and took a little video. The video starts out pretty dark, so this is a photo of what you’re looking at:


The copper tube and silver doughnut-looking thing is the Tesla coil. Now, watch this video of the lightning strike!

Kind of spooky, isn’t it?

Want to know more about Nicola Tesla? This website is a pretty good place to start. Over there I learned that he was considered a “mad scientist” and that many of his ideas, like the remote controlled boat, were so far ahead of their time that we’re only just now realizing their potential.

Did you like the Tesla coil video? There are a lof of neat videos of Tesla coils making music over on YouTube.

Stay curious,


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