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Nikola Tesla (1856-1943)
  1. L F Haas

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    The advent of magnetic resonance scanners has drawn the term “Tesla” into the neurological vocabulary, by denoting as it does the strength of the magnet used . Tesla was born in Luka, Croatia, on the Adriatic coast and studied mathematics and physics at the University of Graz and philosophy at Prague. In 1884 he immigrated to the United States where he worked for Thomas Edison, until a bitter quarrel developed between them. Tesla invented the first alternating (AC) motor in 1887. Most commercially generated electricity at the time was direct current (DC). Edison was a dedicated adherent of the dc system but Telsa saw fundamental weaknesses in this system. He recognised that the main advantage of the AC system was that, with transformers, it was easier and cheaper to transmit very high voltages over very long distances. He soon popularised the AC system, making it practical with out of step currents and rotating magnetic fields. Tesla's invention was taken over by Westinghouse and led to intense competition with Edison and other DC users. The ac system replaced DC electricity which, became confined to specialised uses.

    Tesla also became involved in x ray research. One theory of the time was that blindness might be cured by x rays. Tesla pointed out that there was no evidence for this. He was however convinced he had with x rays discovered a way of stimulating the brain and he repeatedly exposed his head to radiation. With exposures of 20 to 40 minutes he was able to show the bony outline of the skull, the orbit, mandible, and the connection of the vertebral column to the skull. He was the first to suggest that x rays could be used therapeutically—perhaps to “project chemicals into the human body”.


    Telsa had a most fertile mind. His work in science was vast and only a few contributions have been mentioned. His inventions brought him little acclaim during his lifetime. There had been speculation on quite reasonable grounds that he refused the Nobel Prize, and he may have been the only scientist to do so. He died a relatively poor man. The United States philatelically honoured him in 1983 along with three other American inventors (Stanley Gibbons 2050, Scott 2057). His name is often misspelled and Tesla once wrote to a friend that he wished he could turn all the forked lightning in his laboratory on critics who misspelled his name.