Event Name Scientific Legacy of Nikola Tesla
Start Date 17th Dec 2013 9:00am
End Date 17th Dec 2013 3:00pm
Duration 6 hours

Scientific Meeting The Scientific and Technological Legacy of Nikola Tesla  

organized  by the Croatian Academy of  Sciences and Arts, Zagreb, December 17, 2013


Nikola Tesla in Science – Discovery of  X-rays

Stanko Popović

Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Physics Department, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, Croatia



Scientific achievements and miraculous inventions have made Nikola Tesla, the Croatian inventor (The New Yorker 2013), world-famous. Here are several titles out of thousands of books and papers dealing with the life and work of Nikola Tesla that confirm the above statement: Prodigal Genius–The Life of Nikola Tesla (J. J. O'Neill, Ives Washburn 1944, Book Tree 2007); Tesla–Man out of Time (M. Cheney, Simon and Schuster 2001);  The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century–Nikola Tesla, Forgotten Genius of Electricity (R. Lomas,  Headline 1999); Wizard–Biography of a Genius (M. Seifer, Citadel 2001); Tesla–Master of Lightning (M. Cheney  et al., Barnes & Noble Books 1999); Nikola Tesla–The Man Behind the Magnetic Field Unit (A. Rougin, J. Magn. Reson. Imaging 2004); Inventor of Dreams (B. Carlson, Scientific American 2005); The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla (D. Childress, Adventures Unlimited Press 1993); Nikola TeslaPhysicist, Inventor, Electrical Engineer (M. Burgan, Minn. Compass Point Books  2009); Nikola Tesla and the Discovery of X-rays (M. Hrabak et al., RadioGraphics 2008). However, there are some statements about Tesla, given in certain papers, books and encyclopedias, which are not always correct.

Some of the main scientific achievements and inventions of Nikola Tesla (not quoted  chronologically) are: alternating current, generators of alternating current, polyphase system,   

rotating magnetic field, induction motor, electric power distribution and transmission, Tesla Columbus egg, Tesla transformer, wireless transfer of energy, radio remote control vehicle,     teleforce, robot, radio, Tesla coil, bifilar coil, Tesla oscillator, current of high frequency and high voltage, lightning rods, arc light system, Tesla turbine, Tesla bladeless turbine,  terrestrial stationary waves, telegeodynamics,electrogravitics,X-rays, electronic logic gate...  Tesla also contributed much, theoretically and experimentally, in discovering and understanding of several fundamental notions and concepts in physics; however, other scientists were rewarded primacy for that in forthcoming years (V. Paar, 60th Anniversary of Death of N.Tesla, Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 2004):  papers on electron in 1891 (discovery of electron by J. J. Thomson in 1897); the idea on electron microscope in 1903 ( its construction by E. Ruska 1931-33), X-rays in 1894 (W. C. Röntgen 1895), accelerator of a beam of charged particles in 1891 (construction of cyclotron by E. Lawrence in 1932, linear accelerator by J. Cockroft and E. Walton in 1932), prediction of cosmic rays in 1897 (discovery of cosmic rays by V. Hess in 1912), concept of radar in 1903 (construction of radar in 1934-40), the idea of induced radioactivity in 1899 (experimental discovery by J. F. Joliot, I. Curie in 1934), radio transmission in 1898 (G. Marconi 1901), laser in 1893 ( construction of laser by C. Townes, N. Basov, A. Prochorov in 1953-57).

When Guglielmo Marconi made his first ever transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla stated that he had already described that phenomenon in a series of his patents. In 1943 The Supreme Court of the United States decided to restore the priority of Tesla's patents.  In 1960, in honor of Tesla, the General Conference on Weights and Measures for the International System of Units   dedicated the term tesla, T,  to the SI unit of magnetic field.

Tesla was granted about 300 patents worldwide for his inventions. His patent specifications began like this: ''Be it known that I, Nikola Tesla, of Smiljan, Lika, border country of Austria-Hungary, residing at New York, have  invented...'', or, ''Be it known that I, Nikola Tesla, a citizen of the United States, residing at New York, have invented...''.

In 1892 Tesla visited Zagreb and presented a plan for the electrical illumination of the town. On December 17, 1896 Tesla was elected the honorary member of the Yugoslav (now: Croatian) Academy of Sciences and Arts, while on June 29, 1926 he was awarded the honorary doctorate by the University of Zagreb. 

Starting in 1894, Tesla experimented with mysterious shadowgraphs similar to those that later were studied by W. C. Röntgen (Encyclopedia Britannica; N. Tesla, Lecture before the New York Academy of Sciences 1897; 21st Century Books 1994). Tesla was aware of an unknown  radiant energy of invisible kind (a very special radiation) that had damaged film in his laboratory in the previous experiments (M. Hrabak et al. 2008; M. Cheney 2001), later identified as Röntgen rays or X-rays. Unfortunately, much of his early research was lost when his lab in New York was burnt down on March 13, 1895. Röntgen published his discovery on November 8, 1895. In the beginning of 1896, after hearing of Röntgen's discovery, Tesla proceeded with his own experiments in X-ray imaging, designing a high energy unipolar vacuum tube that had no target electrode; the electrons were accelerated by peaks of the electrical field produced by the high-voltage Tesla coil. Tesla realized that the source of X-rays was the site of the first impact of electrons within the tube, which was either the anode in a bipolar tube or the glass wall in the unipolar tube. In his research, Tesla devised several experimental setups to produce X-rays, that were of much greater power than obtainable with ordinary apparatus. He stated that the cathodic stream was composed of very small particles (ie. electrons), and that the produced X-rays were also  minute particles (later proved to be electromagnetic radiation quanta–photons). Tesla described his experiments in detail in a series of papers in Electrical Review New York, the first paper appearing in March 1896 (March 11, 18, April 1, 8, 22, July 8, Aug 12, Dec 1, 1896;  May 5, Aug 11, 1897). Tesla sent his images to Röntgen shortly after he published his discovery. Although Tesla gave Röntgen full credit for his discovery, Röntgen congratulated Tesla on his sophisticated images, wondering how he had achieved such impressive results. Tesla commented on physiological hazards of working with X-rays and gave recommendations for protection (D. Di Santis, Early American Radiology, Am. J. Röntgenol. 1986). He also described some clinical benefits of X-rays: determination of foreign body position and detection of lung diseases, noting that denser bodies were more opaque to X-rays. He also experimented with reflected X-rays, using different materials as the reflecting surface, and described features of transmitted and reflected rays. Tesla realized that a sharp shadow of an object could be produced at a great object-film distance and with a short exposure time. 

Therefore, there is much evidence that confirm the legacy of Tesla in discovery of X-rays, starting with his papers in Electrical Review; his lecture before the New York Academy of Sciences in 1897 validated to some degree his primacy in research of X-rays. One will never know who would have won the Nobel prize for the discovery of X-rays if Tesla's work had not been lost in fire. The least one can do is to appreciate his pioneer work in this field (M. Hrabak et al. 2008). The nature of X-rays was finally unveiled by Max von Laue in 1912 who performed the experiment of diffraction of X-rays in a crystal.

22 references. 

Picture of Nikola Tesla at top of page: Wikimedia Commons  


Location Zagreb
Contact Stanko Popovic
URL http://www.hazu.hr
Category lectures