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Nikola Tesla and Alternating Current (AC). Physics 001. Chelsey Culbert Alexandra Veremeychic Amber Snyder Wei Jiang. A Young Genius.

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nikola tesla and alternating current ac
Nikola Tesla and Alternating Current (AC)

Physics 001

Chelsey Culbert

Alexandra Veremeychic

Amber Snyder

Wei Jiang

a young genius
A Young Genius

Nikola Tesla (right) was born in Croatia in 1856 and, from infancy, had remarkable memory and comprehension. As a young man, he studied mathematics and physics at the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria. His extraordinary understanding of electricity, however, would lead to ground-breaking developments in alternating current, or AC, electrically-powered systems that are still used today.

inventing the ac motor
Inventing the AC Motor
  • Due to financial instability, Tesla was forced to end his studies at the Polytechnic Institute. From his education there, he developed a profound interest in alternating current devices.
  • At that time, physicists had some understanding that AC had advantages over direct current, or DC. However, it was not understood how AC motors could be built and utilized effectively for the several attempts at building motors were unsuccessful, and it was thought that it was impossible for motors to run on AC.
  • Tesla was fascinated by this concept of AC power, and thought endlessly about the failed motor designs he had previously seen at the Institute.
  • In 1882, his fascination turned into impromptu discovery. While walking in a park with his friend, Tesla “abruptly froze in mid-step and mid-sentence.” A new idea for an AC motor had spontaneously clicked in his mind. He drew this mental design for the revolutionary motor in the sand.
  • Six years after this discovery, Tesla presented his design before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. It became a pioneering scientific standard for handling, utilizing, and distributing AC power which was believed to soon spread across the entire world.
the struggle for power ac vs dc
The Struggle for Power: AC vs. DC
  • In 1884, Tesla came to America to work for Thomas Edison (left), a young scientist who had been working exclusively with DC devices.
  • Edison had no interest in Tesla and his radical work with AC, but he assured he would pay Tesla $50, 000 if he could redesign Edison’s ineffective DC generator designs. Tesla successfully redesigned the generator, but Edison refused to pay him.
  • Tesla quit working for Edison, and, a poor man, persistently sought support for his experiments with AC. Eventually, he was able to find funding for his research. He then applied for patents for the polyphase AC motors and transformers he developed through his adaptation of the rotating magnetic field (induction).
  • His drastic ideas baffled engineers of the time, who considered his concepts far-fetched. But he was able to catch the attention of businessman George Westinghouse, who took great interest in his ideas.

Westinghouse bought Tesla’s patents for his AC systems in hopes that their use would spread across the globe. Westinghouse signed a contract with Tesla that guaranteed Tesla $2.50 for each horsepower of AC that was sold.

  • The rapid expansion of AC-motorized equipment became a threat to Edison and his powerful DC industry. This started the “war of currents” between Tesla and Edison.
  • Edison, who feared Tesla’s AC motors would ruin his business, did everything he could to discredit Tesla’s lifelong work. He spread rumors of the dangers of AC via brochures and lobbying efforts. When that didn’t work, Edison began weekend “demonstrations” of the lethal consequences of AC power by electrocuting homeless animals and even invented the electric chair to scare the public from AC. He guaranteed the people that DC was not deadly like AC, though it certainly was.
  • Though, in the long run, Edison’s attempts at destroying Tesla’s progressive work failed, he did manage to taint his reputation and caused him extreme financial distress. Westinghouse had to terminate their contract in order for the AC business to continue. Tesla, without dispute, agreed. He died in 1943, an old and poor man.
ac s impact on society today
AC’s Impact on Society Today
  • Tesla is rarely credited for his immense contributions to physics due to Edison. Every common home appliance today runs on AC motors invented by Tesla.
  • The advantages of AC surpasses those of DC significantly. Because AC changes its direction about 50 times a second, it can be stepped up to high voltage levels, which allows the supply of power over vast distances. DC, however, flows in only one direction and cannot step up to high voltage levels, thus is unable to distribute power farther than approximately two miles.
  • Without Tesla’s extraordinary work with electricity and his discoveries with alternating current, we would not have the cutting-edge technology that we have today.
tesla s other contributions
Tesla’s Other Contributions
  • Tesla was an innovator in a vast amount of fields in science, not just AC. Many of his experiments still confound scientists all over the world, and his exploration and development in the following disciplines had significant roles in several inventions of the latter 20th century and beyond:
  • Robotics
  • Wireless communications
  • Radar
  • Synthetic lighting
  • X-rays
  • Computers
  • Guglielmo Marconi is commonly credited for inventing the radio, though Tesla had given lectures on wireless broadcasting years before. The Supreme Court gave credit to Tesla in 1943, the year of his death.
  • "Nikola Tesla: The Forgotten Father of Today." Electroherbalism. N.p., n.d. Web.      25 Sept. 2010. <      TeslaversusEdison.htm>.
  • "Nikola Tesla: The Forgotten Genius." Viewzone. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Sept. 2010.      <>.
  • "One Story of Nikola Tesla." A Small Introduction to Nikola Tesla. N.p., n.d.     Web. 25 Sept. 2010. <>.
  • Vujovic, Ljubo. "Nikola Tesla: The Genius who Lit the World." Tesla Biography.      Tesla Memorial Society of New York, 10 July 1998. Web. 25 Sept. 2010.      <>.