Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla Articles

Newspaper and magazine articles related to Nikola Tesla

An All-American Electric Show: A Salute to Nikola Tesla

July, 1992
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The Spirit of Tesla Returns

A simulated engraving of the inventor sending 20,000 volts through his body. From The World. 1894.

In a spectacular display of sparks, science and showmanship, the spirit of Nikola Tesla returned to “Little London” (Colorado Springs). Staged as a separate event from the 1992 International Tesla Symposium, the Society held its first “Zap Benefit Show” featuring Bill Wysock and his gargantuan Tesla Coils. Bill - a master Tesla Coil builder and showman - blended together an exciting and educational mixture of static and rf electricity!

During the late 1800s, Nikola Tesla faced intense opposition which portrayed alternating currents as extremely dangerous and downright lethal. Tesla realized that in order for the use of the alternating current form of electricity to become widespread, the general public would have to become intimately familiar with it. To promote the use of alternating currents, Tesla devised a number of electrical demonstrations utilizing alternating currents of high frequency and high voltage. By passing thousands of volts over his body, Nikola Tesla demonstrated unequivocally that electricity was a two-edged sword. Handled properly, electricity can be the greatest servant to mankind - exploited improperly, it was a deadly killer!

This radical approach to public education was very successful. There is no doubt that his demonstrations not only calmed the public’s fears of alternating currents, but they also sparked the imaginations of young and old alike.

To a large degree, the spurt of interest in science at the turn of the century was due to the incredible electrical shows that Tesla pioneered.

The International Tesla Society continues to carry on the tradition of Nikola Tesla. At every symposium there has always been a fairly decent electrical demonstration performed. In the symposiums since 1986, the Society has been fortunate enough to obtain the services of Bill Wysock and his company - Tesla Technology Research. Wysock’s coils were considerably larger and more impressive than the coils previously used. Due to the immense size of the coils, the electrical shows had to move outdoors. This subjected the production crews to the mercy of the elements and subjected them to an incredible workload as they had to setup and breakdown the demonstration every night.

This year, we were able to obtain the use of Cheyenne Mountain School’s Shaw Auditorium. This freed us from the constraints of waiting for darkness or hoping the weather stayed clear. It also meant that the equipment only had to be setup and broken down once.

A Dramatic Introduction

Bill Wysock (far right) introduces his cast of fearless associates. Shown from left to right is Julie Kelly, Pete Miller, Brent Turner and Lowell Beezely. Photo: C.J. Nagy

Music, because of its influence on the human psyche, has historically been used to set the stage and subconsciously lead our expectations. As the audience entered the auditorium, they were greeted by the strains of Toccata and Fuge in D Minor, BWV565 from the album Bachbusters by Don Dorsi - a beautiful organ piece that intensified the atmosphere! During some of the performances, our sound director, Cliff Shackleton, interspersed the music with some rolling thunder - a precursor to the electrifying events that was to come later.

In a manner reminiscent of Disneyworld, the audience was welcomed to the performance by Society’s president via a taped message. It was professionally done and was quite impressive - heightening the atmosphere. At this point, longtime Tesla Coil Master Builder, Bill Wysock, assumed the stage and the show began!

Skin Effect and rf Burns

Lowell Beezely sitting on top of the elevated capacitance. Performances using the table require that not only does the performer have a good tolerance for electrical currents, but a sense of balance as well. Photo: C.J. Nagy

Many of Tesla’s astounding special effects was due to a phenomenon known as skin effect. Electrical current is absorbed into conductors at low frequencies of alternating current. As the frequency is raised, the current does not have time to saturate the conductor, and less and less current is absorbed into the conductor.

At frequencies above 10 KHz, the current will travel over the human body without harm. This is then referred to as skin effect. Bill made good use of this phenomenon throughout the program.

At the appointed time, either he or his associate--Lowell Beezely, would bravely mount the isolated table top which served as an “elevated capacitance.” Once balanced, our brave performer would then brandish various props as the voltage was raised to the megavolt levels. In one instance, a ball and chain would be twirled around the performer’s head while the sparks jumped out of the ball. After that display, the lightning rod was sort of mundane. Other tricks featured during this portion of the show include passing electricity out of the fingers and a short pair of rods.

Bill Wysock demonstrates his prowess as a human conductor. Although this looks like child’s play, we do NOT encourage anyone to try this at home. Displays like this can be dangerous and as such are best left to professionals like Bill Wysock. All of the Tesla Coils utilized at the ZAP Benefit was engineered, constructed and operated by Tesla Technology Research - a company dedicated to building a better Tesla Coil. Tesla Technology Research has conducted the Tesla Coil shows at the International Tesla Symposiums since 1988. This is the first indoor show at the symposium which freed it from the constraints of time. - Photo: C.J. Nagy

To do these stunts, a good grip on the props is a definite requirement. A good grip on the rod prevents a spark from occurring between the body and the metal discharge point. In effect, it eliminates rf bum. In the case where no rod is present, and spark is to come off of the hand, metals thimbles and conductive grease is used to prevent rf bums. During the acts where the performer is sitting, his pants are thoroughly wetted down to provide a good conductive path.

Lowell Beezely showing his “electric” hands! Without the use of mechanical aids, Lowell shows us that you can still put on a pretty good show! Photo: C.J. Nagy

One may wonder why such elaborate precautions are necessary if there is no harm to the body by passing current over it. The damage is created by the destructive action of the spark. A close examination of any spark gap will reveal massive amounts of degradation over time - damage that occurs to any material (even skin) exposed to a spark. By eliminating gaps in the path of the electricity, unwanted sparks can be reduced.

Points and high spots tend to be the areas where spark discharges are most likely to occur. One particularly susceptible spot is the demonstrator’s pate (top back of the head). You may note that even though the demonstrator has sparks flying of his head, his hair lays flat during the coil demonstrations.

RF versus Static

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood phenomenon of high voltage is the difference between alternating currents and static electricity. Static electricity exists when a charge is being placed on a material from which it cannot readily leave. On the other hand, alternating current is moving charges back and forth - not allowing any charge to be built up. In the case where like charges are built up, the charges are repelled from each other causing some pretty strange effects.

Our cover girl - Julie Kelly-acts as a human collector. All of the charges are of the same polarity. As a result, when Julie’s body is fully charged, all of the charges are repelled from each other forcing Julie’s hair to stand on end. This hair-raising event occurs only with static charges. Photo: C.J. Nagy

Alternating currents of high frequency are referred to as radio frequency (rf). To create rf electricity, we use Tesla coils and their derivative cousins. To build up massive amounts of charges, we use Van de Graaf machines. At our show we were blessed with the presence of a great Van de Graaf machine built by Pete Miller. This allowed the audience to observe first hand some of the differences between static discharges and rf discharges.

Anyone who has walked across a carpet on a dry day and touched a door knob has experienced a mild form of static discharge. In industry, millions of dollars a year are spent on reducing static electricity due to the damage it can cause to microcircuits and sensitive electrical equipment. On a more positive note, many researchers are taking a second look at static electricity as a possible alternate energy source.

Pete Miller preparing the ion propeller. Even static charges can do work. As the propeller is charged up, it will spin. Photo: C.J. Nagy

The Van de Graaf generator demonstration featured a very brave young lady - Julie Kelly. Julie was placed upon the infamous elevated capacitance. Once she was balanced, she placed her hand on the collector of the Van de Graaf device. As the Van de Graaf device began to charge Julie, an incredible event occurred - her hair began to stand on end! In the matter of a few seconds, enough charge had collected on her to cause each strand of her hair to move outward from her body and other strands of hair, giving Julie the appearance of an irritated porcupine! Remember - like charges repel. Note the difference between Julie’s body holding the charge, and Bill Wysock passing the charges over his body.

At the end of the demonstration, the charge was drawn off of Julie by shorting the table she was on to ground. As the charge was dissipated into the ground, Julie’s hair slowly returned to normal. During this demonstration, Julie was charged up to about 250,000 volts.

The Grande’ Finale’

For the first time in public, Bill Wysock demonstrated one of the most awesome Tesla Coils I have ever seen. Towering fifteen feet above the crowd, it was intimidating even when it was not powered up. When powered up, the 30-foot arcs left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who currently reigns as “King of the Coil Builders!” In building this coil system, Bill drew upon every ounce of his extensive knowledge in coil construction. In doing so he used some innovative techniques that redefined the state-of-the-art in Tesla coils! [See following article]

A Tribute to Tesla

This all-American electric show exemplifies Tesla and his efforts to bring science to life for the general populace. Like Tesla before him, Bill captured the crowd’ s imagination and was able to capitalize on their brief interest to re-instill a desire to learn more about Tesla and Tesla coils. The question and answer period following the show was almost as interesting as the show itself. Although the show was intended as a benefit for the Society, in great measure it benefitted all who attended.


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