Nikola Tesla : the father of sustainable development

Nikola Tesla : the father of sustainable development

Much before World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the Brundtland Commission’s, The Centre for Our Common Future and Rio Declaration on Environment and Development – before 1900, Nikola Tesla revolutionarily saw that definitions of sustainable development required that we observe the world as a system that connects space and as a system that connects time. Tesla fought for development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Over more, in his amazing article The Problem of Increasing Human energy » published in Century Illustrated Magazine in June 1900, Tesla opens a new chapter in humankind: the Energy (

Originality and prophetic role of Tesla could also be analyzed through the concept of the article “The Power of the Future” written around 1920 :

Those who are concerned about the future had stopped long time ago to see energy only as a means of ensuring personal comfort and security; they attach to it a national, international and humanitarian significance. Not only that, the idea that our resources belong to the generations that will come is slowly born, and thoughts of engineers and inventors turn to better methods, which will not have to do with the barbaric use of energy like at the moment and which will eventually lead to the depletion of our stocks. This is why various kind of sensational announcements about new energy sources cause such a hysterical interest and readily grasp. But only one among a thousand, even among the professionals, may separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Aleksandar Protic



by Nikola Tesla

The Electrical Engineer — December 21, 1892

« Anyone who, like myself, has had the pleasure of witnessing the beautiful demonstrations with vibrating diaphragms which Prof. Bjerknes, exhibited in person at the Paris Exposition in 1880, must have admired his ability and painstaking care to such a degree, as to have an almost implicit faith in the correctness of observations made by him.  His experiments « On the Dissipation of the Electrical Energy of the Hertz Resonator, » which are described in the issue of Dec. 14, of THE ELECTRICAL ENGINEER, are prepared in the same ingenious and skillful manner, and the conclusions drawn from them are all the more interesting as they agree with the theories put forth by the most advanced thinkers.  There can not be the slightest doubt as to the truth of these conclusions, yet the statements which follow may serve to explain in part the results arrived at in a different manner; and with this object in view I venture to call attention to a condition with which, in investigations such as those of Prof. Bjerknes, the experimenter is confronted.

The apparatus, oscillator and resonator, being immersed in air, or other discontinuous medium, there occurs—as I have pointed out in the description of my recent experiments before the English and French scientific societies—dissipation of energy by what I think might be appropriately called electric sound waves or sound-waves of electrified air.  In Prof. Bjerknes’s experiments principally this dissipation in the resonator need be considered, though the sound-waves—if this term be permitted—which emanate from the surfaces at the oscillator may considerably affect the observations made at some distance from the latter.  Owing to this dissipation the period of vibration of an air-condenser can not be accurately determined, and I have already drawn attention to this important fact.  These waves are propagated at right angles from the charged surfaces when their charges are alternated, and dissipation occurs, even if the surfaces are covered with thick and excellent insulation.  Assuming that the « charge » imparted to a molecule or atom either by direct contact or inductively is proportionate to the electric density of the surface, the dissipation should be proportionate to the square of the density and to the number of waves per second.  The above assumption, it should be stated, does not agree with some observations from which it appears that an atom can not take but a certain maximum charge; hence, the charge imparted may be practically independent of the density of the surface, but this is immaterial for the present consideration.  This and other points will be decided when accurate quantitative determinations, which are as yet wanting, shall be trade.  At present it appears certain from experiments with, high-frequency currents, that this dissipation of energy from a wire, for instance, is not very far from being proportionate to the frequency of the alternations, and increases very rapidly when the diameter of the wire is made exceedingly small.  On the latter point the recently published results of Prof. Ayrton and H. Kilgour on « The Thermal Emissivity of Thin Wires in Air » throw a curious light.  Exceedingly thin wires are capable of dissipating a comparatively very great amount of energy by the agitation of the surrounding air, when they are connected to a source of rapidly alternating potential.  So in the experiment cited, a thin hot wire is found to be capable of emitting an extraordinarily great amount of heat, especially at elevated temperatures.  In the case of a hot wire it must of course be assumed that the increased emissivity is due to the more rapid convection and not, to any, appreciable degree, to an increased radiation.  Were the latter demonstrated, it would show that a wire, made hot by the application of heat in ordinary ways, behaves in some respects like one, the charge of which is rapidly alternated, the dissipation of energy per unit of surface kept at a certain temperature depending on the curvature of the surface.  I do not recall any record of experiments intended to demonstrate this, yet this effect, though probably very small, should certainly be, looked for.

A number of observations showing the peculiarity, of very thin wires were made in the course of my experiments.  I noted, for instance, that in the well-known Crookes instrument the mica vanes are repelled with comparatively greater force when the incandescent platinum wire is exceedingly thin.  This observation enabled me to produce the spin of such vanes mounted in a vacuum tube when the latter was placed in an alternating electrostatic field.  This however does not prove anything in regard to radiation, as in a highly exhausted vessel tile phenomena are principally due to molecular bombardment or convection.

When I first undertook to produce the incandescence of a wire enclosed in a bulb, by connecting it to only one of the terminals of a high tension transformer, I could not succeed for a long time.  On one occasion I had mounted in a bulb a thin platinum wire, but my apparatus was not adequate to produce the incandescence.  I made other bulbs, reducing the length of the wire to a small fraction; still I did not succeed.  It then occurred to me that it would be desirable to have the surface of the wire as large as possible, yet the bulk small, and I provided a bulb with an exceedingly thin wire of a bulk about equal to that of the short but much thicker wire.  On turning the current on the bulb the wire was instantly fused.  A series of subsequent experiments showed that when the diameter of the wire was exceedingly small, considerably more energy would be dissipated per unit surface at all degrees of exhaustion than was to be expected, even on the assumption that the energy given off was in proportion to the square of the electric density.  There is likewise evidence which, though not possessing the certainty of an accurate quantitative determination, is nevertheless reliable because it is the result of a great many observations, namely, that with the increase of the density the dissipation is more rapid for thin than for thick wires.

The effects noted in exhausted vessels with high-frequency currents are merely diminished in degree when the air is at ordinary pressure, but heating and dissipation occurs, as I have demonstrated, under the ordinary atmospheric conditions.  Two very thin wires attached to the terminals of a high-frequency coil are capable of giving off an appreciable amount of energy.  When the density is very great, the temperature of the wires may be perceptibly raised, and in such case probably the greater portion of the energy which is dissipated owing to the presence of a discontinuous medium is transformed into heat at the surface or in close proximity to the wires.  Such heating could not occur in a medium possessing either of the two qualities, namely, perfect incompressibility or perfect elasticity.  In fluid insulators, such as oils, though they are far from being perfectly incompressible or elastic to electric displacement, the heating is much smaller because of the continuity of the fluid.

When the electric density of the wire surfaces is small, there is no appreciable local heating, nevertheless energy is dissipated in air, by waves, which differ from ordinary sound-waves only because the air is electrified.  These waves are especially conspicuous when the discharges of a powerful battery are directed through a short and thick metal bar, the number of discharges per second being very small.  The experimenter may feel the impact of the air at distances of six feet or more from the bar, especially if be takes the precaution to sprinkle the face or hands with ether.  These waves cannot be entirely stopped by the interposition of an insulated metal plate.

Most of the striking phenomena of mechanical displacement, sound, heat and light which have been observed, imply the presence of a medium of a gaseous structure that is one consisting of independent carriers capable of free motion.

When a glass plate is placed near a condenser the charge of which is alternated, the plate emits a sound.  This sound is due to the rhythmical impact of the air against the plate.  I have also found that the ringing of a condenser, first noted by Sir William Thomson, is due to the presence of the air between or near the charged surfaces.

When a disruptive discharge coil is immersed in oil contained in a tank, it is observed that the surface of the oil is agitated.  This may be thought to be due to the displacements produced in the oil by the changing stresses, but such is not the case.  It is the air above the oil which is agitated and causes the motion of the latter; the oil itself would remain at rest.  The displacements produced in it by changing electrostatic stresses are insignificant; to such stresses it may be said to be compressible to but a very small degree.  The action of the air is shown in a curious manner for if a pointed metal bar is taken in the hand and held with the point close to the oil, a hole two inches deep is formed in the oil by the molecules of the air, which are violently projected from the point.

The preceding statements may have a general bearing upon investigations in which currents of high frequency and potential are made use of, but they also have a more direct bearing upon the experiments of Prof. Bjerknes which are here considered, namely, the « skin effect, » is increased by the action of the air.  Imagine a wire immersed in a medium, the conductivity of which would be some function of the frequency and potential difference but such, that the conductivity increases when either or bout of these elements are increased.  In such a medium, the higher the frequency and potential difference, the greater wilt be the current which will find its way through the surrounding medium, and the smaller the part which will pass through the central portion of the wire: In the case of a wire immersed in air and traversed by a high-frequency current, the facility with which the energy is dissipated may be considered as the equivalent of the conductivity; and the analogy would be quite complete, were it not that besides the air another medium is present, the total dissipation being merely modified by the presence of the air to an extent as yet not ascertained.  Nevertheless, I have sufficient evidence to draw the conclusion, that the results obtained by Prof. Bjerknes are affected by the presence of air in the following manner: 1. The dissipation of energy is more rapid when the resonator is immersed in air than it would be in a practically continuous medium, for instance, oil.  2. The dissipation owing to the presence of air renders the difference between magnetic and non-magnetic metals more striking.  The first conclusion follows directly from the preceding remarks; the second follows front the two facts that the resonator receives always the same amount of energy, independent of the nature of the metal, and that the magnetism of the metal increases the impedance of the circuit.  A resonator of magnetic metal behaves virtually as though its circuit were longer.  There is a greater potential difference set up per unit of length; although this rosy not show itself in the deflection of the electrometer owing to the lateral dissipation.  The effect of the increased impedance is strikingly illustrated in the two experiments of Prof. Bjerknes when copper is deposited upon an iron wire, and next iron upon a copper wire.  Considerable thickness of copper deposit was required in the former experiment, but very little thickness of iron in the latter, as should be expected.

Taking the above views, I believe, that in the experiments of Prof. Bjerknes which lead him to undoubtedly correct conclusions, the air is a factor fully as important, if not more so, than the resistance of the metals. »

Go to source and find out more here



The Sun, New York, January 30, 1901

Capacity of Electrical Conductors is Variable, Not Constant, and Formulas Will Have to Be Rewritten — Capacity Varies With Absolute Height Above Sea Level, Relative Height From Earth and Distance From the Sun

Nikola Tesla announced yesterday another new discovery in electricity. This time it is a new law and by reason of it, Mr. Tesla asserts, a large part of technical literature will have to be rewritten. Ever since anything has been known about electricity, scientific men have taken for granted that the capacity of an electrical conductor is constant. When Tesla was experimenting in Colorado he found out that this capacity is not constant—but variable. Then he determined to find out the law governing this phenomenon. He did so, and all this he explained to The Sun yesterday. Here is what he said:

« Since many years scientific men engaged in the study of physics and electrical research have taken it for granted that certain quantities, entering continuously in their estimates and calculations, are fixed and unalterable. The exact determination of these quantities being of particular importance in electrical vibrations, which are engrossing more and more the attention of experimenters all over the world, it seems to be important to acquaint others with some of my observations, which have finally led me to the results now attracting universal attention. These observations, with which I have long been familiar, show that some of the quantities referred to are variable and that, owing to this, a large portion of the technical literature is defective. I shall endeavor to convey the knowledge of the facts I have discovered in plain language, devoid as much as possible of technicalities. »

« It is well known that an electric circuit compacts itself like a spring with a weight attached to it. Such a spring vibrates at a definite rate, which is determined by two quantities, the pliability of the spring and the mass of the weight. Similarly an electric circuit vibrates, and its vibration, too, is dependent on two quantities, designated as electrostatic capacity and inductance. The capacity of the electric circuit corresponds to the pliability of the spring and the inductance to the mass of the weight. »

« Exactly as mechanics and engineers have taken it for granted that the pliability of the spring remains the same, no matter how it be placed or used, so electricians and physicists have assumed that the electrostatic capacity of a conducting body, say of a metallic sphere, which is frequently used in experiments, remains a fixed and unalterable quantity, and many scientific results of the greatest importance are dependent on this assumption. Now, I have discovered that this capacity is not fixed and unalterable at all.  On the contrary, it is susceptible to great changes, so that under certain conditions it may amount to many times its theoretical value, or may eventually be smaller. Inasmuch as every electrical conductor, besides possessing an inductance, has also a certain amount of capacity, owing to the variations of the latter, the inductance, too, is seemingly modified by the same causes that tend to modify the capacity. These facts I discovered some time before I gave a technical description of my system of energy transmission and telegraphy without wires, which, I believe, became first known through my Belgian and British patents. »

« In this system, I then explained, that, in estimating the wave-length of the electrical vibration in the transmitting and receiving circuits, due regard must be had to the velocity with which the vibration is propagated through each of the circuits, this velocity being given by the product of the wave-length and the number of vibrations per second. The rate of vibration being, however, as before stated, dependent on the capacity and inductance in each case, I obtained discordant values. »

« Continuing the investigation of this astonishing phenomenon I observed that the capacity varied with the elevation of the conducting surface above the ground and I soon ascertained the law of this variation. The capacity increased as the conducting surface was elevated, in open space, from one-half to three-quarters of 1 percent per foot of elevation. In buildings, however, or near large structures, this increase often amounted to 50 percent per foot of elevation, and this alone will show to what extent many of the scientific experiments recorded in technical literature are erroneous. In determining the length of the coils or conductors such as I employ in my system of wireless telegraphy, for instance, the rule which I have given is, in view of the above, important to observe. »

« Far more interesting, however, for men of science is the fact I observed later, that the capacity undergoes an annual variation with a maximum in summer, and a minimum in winter. In Colorado, where I continued with improved methods of investigations begun in New York, and where I found the rate of increase slightly greater, I furthermore observed that there was a diurnal variation with a maximum during the night. Further, I found that sunlight causes a slight increase in capacity. The moon also produces an effect, but I do not attribute it to its light. »

« The importance of these observations will be better appreciated when it is stated that owing to these changes of a quantity supposed to be constant an electrical circuit does not vibrate at a uniform rate, but its rate is modified in accordance with the modifications of the capacity. Thus a circuit vibrates a little slower at an elevation than when at a lower level. An oscillating system, as used in telegraphy without wires, vibrates a little quicker when the ship gets into the harbor than when on open sea.  Such a circuit oscillates quicker in the winter than in the summer, though it be at the same temperature, and a trifle quicker at night than in daytime, particularly if the sun is shining. »

« Taking together the results of my investigations I find that this variation of the capacity and consequently of the vibration period is evidently dependent, first, on the absolute height above sea level, though in a smaller degree; second, on the relative height of the conducting surface or capacity with respect to the bodies surrounding it; third, on the distance of the earth from the sun, and fourth, on the relative change of the circuit with respect to the sun, caused by the diurnal rotation of the earth. These facts may be of particular interest to meteorologists and astronomers, inasmuch as practical methods of inquiry may result from these observations, which may be useful in their respective fields. It is probable that we shall perfect instruments for indicating the altitude of a place by means of a circuit, properly constructed and arranged, and I have thought of a number of other uses to which this principle may be put. »

« It was in the course of investigations of this kind in Colorado that I first noted certain variations in electrical systems arranged in peculiar ways. These variations I first discovered by calculating over the results I had previously noted, and it was only subsequently that I actually perceived them. It will thus be clear that some who have ventured to attribute the phenomena I have observed to ordinary atmospheric disturbances have made a hasty conclusion. »

Colorado Springs

Oct. 23, 1899

Photo from RADIOTECHNICA, Muzej Nikole TesleExperiments to further ascertain the influence of elevation upon capacity. 

The coil referred to on a previous occasion was finished with exactly 689 turns on a drum of eight feet in length and 14″ diam. The wire used was cord No. 20 as before stated so that the approximate estimate of self-induction and other particulars holds good. The coil was set up upright outside of the building at some distance to reduce any errors due to the influence of the woodwork. From the building extended a structure of dry pine to a height of about sixty feet from the ground. This framework supported, on a projecting crossbeam, a pulley (wood) with cord for pulling up a ball or other object to any desired height within the limits permitted and this beam also carried on its extreme end and close to the pulley a strong glass bottle within which was fastened a bare wire No. 10, which extended vertically downward to the top of the coil. The bottle was an ordinary Champagne bottle, from which the wine had been poured out! and the bottom broken in. It was forced neck downward into a hole bored into the beam and fastened besides with a cord. A tapering plug of hard wood was wedged into the neck and into this plug was fastened the wire. The bottle was finally filled with melted wax.

The whole arrangement is illustrated in the sketch shown in which b is the bottle with wooden plug p supported on beam B also carrying pulley p, over which passes the cord for pulling up the object, which in this case is shown as the sphere C. The spheres used were of wood and hollow and covered very smoothly with tin foil and any points of the foil were pressed in so as to be below the surface of the sphere. . . .

[Colorado Springs Notes, pp. 235, 236]

Go to the source and read more here