This spring break, us future science leaders have been tasked with writing an article about a male scientist that does not pass the finkbeiner test, a test devised to measure sexism in the scientific community (kind of like the bechdel test, but for describing the portrayal of women in science.) With that, my male scientist of choice is……Nikola Tesla!
Nowdays, our cities are always brightly lit at night. We have gotten used to having electricity accessible in our everyday lives. Four that, we in part have the Serbian-American Nikola Tesla to thank.
Born in the middle of of a thunderstorm on Jul 10th, 1856, Tesla’s affinity to invention and engineering were spurred by his Mother during his early years, as she would often invent small household appliances. Though his father had pushed him to join priesthood, Tesla refused and eventually, after recovering from a severe case of cholera, attended the Austrian Polytecnic on a Military Frontier Scholarship. (Ironically, he had never actually been in the military; he had evaded being drafted by running away to the mountains of Tomingaj.) During his first year at the university, he was an overachiever, attended all lectures, achieved the highest grade possible, and completed nine exams, almost double the requirement. However, he eventually dropped out of school, worked as a draftsman, and a schoolteacher for a while, and relocated to New York City.
In New York, he was hired on the spot by Thomas Edison, and the two inventors worked tirelessly to improve Edison’s DC system. In 1885, Edison had half-jokingly claimed $50,000 to whoever could improve the inefficient motors and generators. Tesla, taking up the task, made improvements after a month of work. However, when he inquired about the payment, Edison had claimed that Tesla “[did] not understand our American humour”, and instead offered him a ten dollar raise to his weekly salary. Hurt, Tesla refused the offer and promptly quit.
In late 1886, Tesla’s luck changed when he met Alfred S. Brown and Charles F. Peck, men who were experienced in setting up companies and promoting patents. After viewing Tesla’s patents, the three of them set up the Tesla electric company. It was then when Tesla invented the induction motor, a motor running on Alternate Current instead of Direct Current. This invention pushed the practicality of the AC system in the war of currents against the DC system, catching the eye of George Westinghouse, owner of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. The Westinghouse company had been trying to secure a similar patent for some time, but after Tesla’s patent, Westinghouse had decided to negotiate for Tesla’s Patent.
After Tesla’s innovations with the induction motor, he had worked on many other projects such as harnessing the power of the Niagara falls using AC, radio controlled boats, oscillators, and dreamed of wireless transmission of information and electricity. However, his ideas grew increasingly eccentric, even dreaming of a “death ray” after observing the Van de Graff generator. Never married, Tesla started developing an affection for pigeons later in his life, feeding them daily. He eventually developed special attraction to a particular white female pigeon, declaring that he “loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman.” Though remembered as a dapper, funny, and softspoken individual, Nikola Tesla died alone, in the New Yorker Hotel on January 7th, 1943.