The Greatest Scientific Experiments In History


If you search the web for the greatest, or most famous experiments in history, no site will mention any of the many experiments conducted by Nikola Tesla. What you will find are wonderful, and very important experiments–like those of Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilee, William Harvey, Michael Faraday and Luigi Galvani, but nothing about Tesla, whose investigations into electricity make history’s more recognized experiments look like high school science. Many people today do not know that Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest experimental scientists of all-time.

Throughout the scientist’s investigations into high frequency phenomena, Tesla satisfied himself with a conclusion that an electrostatic field of sufficient intensity could fill a room and light wireless lamps. In 1891, he demonstrated this fact in a lecture given before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and left an audience of America’s greatest engineers spell-bound as he demonstrated by experiments a new theory of light. He showed that by connecting two large sheets of zinc to the terminals of a circuit with the sheets being spread apart about fifteen feet away from each other, he could create an electrostatic field between the two. The sheets served as condensers, and both received the charge of electricity from the wires connecting the sheets to the transformer. Tesla would then introduce vacuum tubes and place them between the zinc sheets, illuminating the tubes and lighting the room. He waved the vacuum tubes around like a Jedi showcasing the first light sabers, and the tubes continued to glow as long as they remained in the electric field. With these results, Tesla theorized that it was possible to use the earth as a conductor of energy, create an electrostatic field in it, and send power to distant parts of the globe. 

To further develop and prove his wireless theory, Tesla spent time in Colorado Springs, from June 1, 1899 to January 7, 1900, to research and experiment with high voltage and high frequency electricity. He chose Colorado Springs because of the high elevation and low air pressure suitable for experimenting with electricity. Also, because he was in such as open area compared to his lab in New York that he was free to experiment with any such desire of voltage and frequency. With his new and improved disruptive coils (Tesla Coils), which could produce electrical vibrations into the millions of horsepower, Tesla was set test the limits of electricity. 

It’s clear from his notes that his principal aim was to find ways to manipulate the forces of nature and to utilize them for the advancement of mankind. He expressed that he had three main goals:

  1. To develop a transmitter of great power.
  2. To perfect means for individualizing and isolating the energy transmitted.
  3. To ascertain the laws of propagation of currents through the earth and the atmosphere.

In his 7 months of work, Tesla obtained voltage and frequencies in the hundreds of millions of horse power, producing sparks over 100 feet in length. He sent energy through the earth to light multiple lamps which were placed dozens of miles away from his transmitter, and discovered stationary waves deriving from lightning discharges which his receiver could detect hundreds of miles away from his station–a discovery proving that power could indeed be transmitted through the earth. He also discovered that the earth, as a whole, had certain natural periods of vibrations, and by using his inventions he could impress electrical vibrations at the same periods upon it, and the globe would be thrown into oscillations of such nature that massive amounts of energy could be created, collected, and transmitted to any distance. This process is called constructive interference (the interference of two or more waves of equal frequencies resulting in mutual reinforcement and producing double the amplitude). By doing this repeatedly, and by using the massive amounts of energy unheard of before, Tesla was able to transmit energy from his transmitter all the way around earth and back to his receiver traveling at a mean velocity of 292,815 miles per second. Witnessing these experiments and measurements, space, according to Tesla, was completely annihilated.

Fully confident that he accomplished what he set out for, Tesla journeyed back to New York to patent improved apparatuses, and to build a new system on a much larger scale. This would lead to his World Wireless System, known as his Wardenclyffe Tower. Unfortunately, Tesla would not complete his dream of providing mankind with cheap, unlimited energy… But his legacy and his dream should live on through these experiments in Colorado Springs.

“My project was retarded by the laws of nature. The world was not prepared for it. It was too far ahead of time. But the same laws will prevail in the end and make it a triumphal success.”

–Nikola Tesla

(“My Inventions – V. The Magnifying Transmitter.” Electrical Experimenter. February, 1919.)


[Fig. 1.] — Nikola Tesla’s building in Colorado Springs which he called his “Experimental Station.”


[Fig. 2.] — Experiment to Illustrate the Capacity of the Oscillator For Producing Electrical Explosions of Great Power: The coil, partly shown in the photograph, creates an alternative movement of electricity from the earth into a large reservoir and back at a rate of one hundred thousand alternations per second. The adjustments are such that the reservoir is fulled full and bursts at each alternation just at the moment when the electrical pressure reaches the maximum. The discharge escapes with a deafening noise, striking an unconnected coil twenty-two feet away, and creating such a commotion of electricity in the earth that sparks an inch long can be drawn from a water main at a distance of three hundred feet from the laboratory.


[Fig. 3.] — Coils Responding to Electrical Oscillations: The picture shows a number of coils , differently attuned and responding to the vibrations transmitted to them through the earth from an electrical oscillator. The large coil on the right, discharging strongly, is tuned to the fundamental vibration, which is fifty thousand per second; the two larger vertical coils to twice that number; the smaller white wire coil to four times that number, and the remaining small coils to higher tones. The vibrations produced by the oscillator were so intense that they affected perceptibly a small coil tuned to the twenty-sixth higher tone.


[Fig. 4.] — Burning the Nitrogen of the Atmosphere: This result is produced by the discharge of an electrical oscillator giving twelve million volts. The electrical pressure, alternating one hundred thousand times per second, excites the normally inert nitrogen, causing it to combine with the oxygen. The flame-like discharge shown in the photograph measures sixty-five feet across.


[Fig. 5.] — Illustrating An Effect of An Electrical Oscillator Delivering Energy at a Rate of Seventy-Five Thousand Horse-Power: The discharge, creating a strong draft owing to the heating of the air, is carried upward through the open roof of the building. The greatest width across is nearly seventy feet. The pressure is over twelve million volts, and the current alternates one hundred and thirty thousand times per second.


[Fig. 6.] — Experiment Illustrating the Capacity on the Oscillator for Creating a Great Electrical Movement: The ball shown in the photograph, covered with a polished metallic coating of twenty square feet of surface, represents a large reservoir of electricity, and the inverted tin pan underneath, with a sharp rim, a big opening through which the electricity can escape before filling the reservoir. The quantity of electricity set in movement is so great that, although most of it escapes through the rim of the pan or opening provided, the ball or reservoir is nevertheless alternately emptied and filled to over-flowing (as is evident from the discharge escaping on the top of the ball) one hundred and fifty thousand times per second.


[Fig. 7.] — A double-exposure photograph of Tesla sitting in front of his electrical oscillator. Of course he’s not really sitting there with the machine on. He would die.


[Fig. 8.] — Experiment Illustrating an Inductive Effect of an Electrical Oscillator of Great Power: The photograph shows three ordinary incandescent lamps lighted to full candle-power by currents induced in a local loop consisting of a single wire forming a square of fifty feet each side, which includes the lamps, and which is at a distance of one hundred feet from the primary circuit energized by the oscillator. The loop likewise includes an electrical condenser, and is exactly attuned to the vibrations of the oscillator, which is worked at less than five percent of its total capacity.


[Fig. 9.] — Experiment Illustrating the Transmission of Electrical Energy Through the Earth Without Wire: The coil shown in the photograph has its lower end or terminal connected to the ground, and is exactly attuned to the vibrations of a distant electrical oscillator. The lamp lighted is in an independent wire loop, energized by induction from the coil excited by the electrical vibrations transmitted to it through the ground from the oscillator, which is worked only to five per cent. of its full capacity.

Photos and captions courtesy of Tesla Collection

Ahead of his time!