Lightning Made to Order
By Samuel Cohen
One of the most perplexing problems that scientists have attacked during recent years involved either the harnessing or imitation of the forces of Nature. Many of our greatest scientists in all parts of the globe have spent fabulous sums and years of patient study on such problems, but most of them have signally failed; a number of eminent scientists even claim that such conundrums will never be thoroughly solved.
This, however, appears, in our present day, to be highly doubtful. As early as 1890 Dr. Nikola Tesla undertook to solve the problem, and some years later succeeded in demonstrating to the world that it is quite possible to imitate certain natural dynamic forces on a scale of surprisingly vast magnitude.
Most of us know that Lightning is a natural electrical discharge taking place between two adjacent clouds, each having been charged with electricity of opposite polarity. As soon as they approach sufficiently close, the electric potential between them becomes so terrific that the air strata between is ruptured, thus producing a vivid spark, followed by thunder, which is caused by the sudden rush of air into the evacuated space produced by the electric discharge. Lightning may be caused also by a discharge taking place between a cloud and the earth. The process by which the clouds are electrically charged is still a mystery, and we must wait until some future genius will explain to us the exact phenomena that takes place in the upper atmosphere, where such electrical disturbances take place.
Dr. Nikola Tesla, who is perhaps the greatest living authority on alternating currents of both high and low frequency, has performed some of the most marvelous experiments ever dreamed of with high potential, high frequency currents. As early as 1890 this savant had produced electrical disturbances in his laboratory at Colorado Springs equal to the lightning produced by Nature. Although a number of years have elapsed since these experiments were conducted, not a single scientist or engineer has been able to produce such awe-inspiring, electrical performances as did Dr. Tesla. It is true that he is far ahead of his time in many of his inventions, yet he has ably demonstrated that it is possible to imitate some of Nature's secret forces. It should be noted that his sole purpose was not simply to imitate these forces, but he was performing certain experiments on the problem of radio transmission of electrical energy through space. The startling lightning effects here shown were produced during the course of these experiments.
During a recent interview the writer had with Dr. Tesla, the photographs herewith reproduced were kindly loaned to accompany this article. Two of these photos were never shown to the public before. Our front cover, painted by Mr. George Wall, is an exact reproduction in colors corresponding to Fig. 1. The man was seated near the apparatus solely for the purpose of showing the relative size of the high frequency oscillation coil. The photograph was obtained by double exposure; that is, the plate was exposed with the man, while the apparatus was not in operation; then he was removed and another exposure made of the sparks on the same plate, as it would not be very healthy for anyone to be there when the experiment is conducted.
In Fig. 1 we see the Tesla electric oscillator in full activity at twelve million volts and a frequency of one hundred thousand per second! The flame-like discharge measures sixty-five feet across. This experiment was performed for the purpose of showing how the nitrogen of the atmosphere could be made to combine with the oxygen. The large wire cage measured 20 feet in diameter and 30 feet in height. This is not the actual coil which is excited by the primary of the Tesla transformer, but a separate helix which is attuned to a certain frequency of the secondary of the transformer. This is apparent by noting the large circular fence-like wall in the rear, which measures 60 feet in diameter and which is wound full with heavy copper wire.