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Nikola Tesla's greatest challenge: He could measure electricity but not stupidity


> You might even understand it what it's for. Children will wonder what the heck it means and eventually ask their parents to explain it to them.

It was in fact those banknotes that made me ask that question when I was a kid. In addition to Tesla on one side, you would have his Tesla coil printed on the other side, or the schematic of his poly-phase generator.

I thought it was cool, and asked my dad about it, and in addition to explaining it to me, he took me to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade, where I got to see all his old experiments being demonstrated, including the poly-phase generator, and an absolutely massive Tesla coil (it was a good 3 odd metres tall).

They would give you fluorescent tubes to hold, and power on the coil. In addition to the sudden tingly feeling and hair standing on end when powered up, you would get lightning bolts out of the machine, and the fluorescent tubes actually lit up in my hand, with no connectors! You could swing it round like a light saber (and of course, I did a bit). I thought it was all amazing, like magic, but with actual understanding behind it (I just had to learn).

There were other experiments, including an incandescent lamp attached to nothing but a coil wound antenna, which was lit up by a transmitter a metre or so away, wirelessly. Dancing metal eggs, a recreation of his remote controlled boat, a model scale demo of a 3 phase power infrastructure (model power station, generators, step-up/step-down transformers, overhead lines, and model homes being powered at the ends), and many others.

That was the moment I got hooked into science. It drove me to learn and understand all, and it is still my goal to build myself a tesla coil (and a tesla turbine, which was another cool piece of kit).

Alas, in the UK there was not much demand for skilled engineers, all the EE stuff was being rapidly offshored to the far east, so for uni my dad recommended I go into computers instead.

As a result, instead of studying EE at uni, I did CompSci. Rather than sparks flying at the office, I spend my days behind a desk shuffling entropy around (and now it is my turn for the jobs to be offshored), but I still remember and am grateful for what inspired me to go into the hard sciences.

Alas, the Tesla museum ran out of funds and shut down in the late 90's/early 2000's. It has since been refitted and reopened, but I don't know if they still have the same demonstrations as I saw. I've been told now its more "interactive games" and less actual demos. Plus I don't think modern health and safety would tolerate firing up huge tesla coils with kids next to it grinning and holding tubes, but I am hopeful. Next time I am down there I might pop in, see how things have changed.

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