Nicola Tesla (portrait)
“The best way to fight ignorance is to spread knowledge in a systematic way. With this goal in mind, it is essential to foster the exchange of ideas and human relations.” Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla: a scientist who was historically instrumental in the evolution of electricity and technology is back in the news.
(2020 – Milan – Spazio Ventura “Tesla Exhibition” – Photo courtesy: Chiara Menescardi)
Spazio Ventura XV presents the “Tesla Exhibition”. Milan first and only stop in Italy of Tesla’s World Tour. Due to COVID-19 it is suspended. An interactive exhibition. A multimedia and sensory experience aimed at conveying an educational scientific value.
Convinced that the purpose of science was to preserve human life and dominate the material world for the benefit and needs of mankind, he worked with tireless energy until his death, leading a solitary and modest existence. “Science is only a prediction if it does not have as its ultimate goal the improvement of the conditions of mankind” Nikola Tesla
Electrical engineer, inventor and physicist. Considered the true father of an impressive number of fundamental inventions of modernity – from radio to the transistor, from radar to X-rays, from the loudspeaker to hydroelectric power, from alternating current to radio astronomy. He developed a prototype for wireless communication (the radio) and gave rise to modern electrical engineering with the development of alternating current, which still ‘lights up’ our cities today. (1)
(2020 – Milan – Spazio Ventura “Tesla Exhibition” 1 – Photo courtesy: Chiara Menescardi)
An important figure of the 20th century, he was born on 10 July 1856 into a family of Serbian origin. As a child, he immediately showed that he was different from his peers. His eidetic memory enabled him to remember everything and to picture in his mind concepts and projects that seemed unthinkable to everyone else. This gift often leads him into bizarre and obsessive behaviour. He studied at the Polytechnic Institute of Graz in Styria, chosen by his father as one of the oldest and most renowned institutes. In 1880 he went to Prague, Bohemia, fulfilling the wish of his father who wanted him to complete his education at the university there. He became interested in electricity (he had been fascinated by lightning and electrical discharges since childhood). He had a real nervous breakdown and claims that this troubled period was crucial to his mental development and his later contributions.
(2020 – Milan – Spazio Ventura “Tesla Exhibition” 2 – Photo courtesy: Chiara Menescardi)
So he began to study the subject and in a short time had a brilliant intuition: he built a current generator with a rotating magnet in the centre and coils placed outside (no longer inside as in the continuous system). The result was a rotating magnetic field with much less energy loss – the principle behind alternating current.
He decided to go to America, the land of progress. He presented his theory of alternating current to Thomas Edison, with a letter of recommendation written by his mentor and friend of Edison’s, but got no response. Tesla decided to look for new financiers to help him realise his project. He found the support of Westinghouse, which bought Tesla’s patents and began to create a new network of cables and power stations. Tesla’s method allowed Westinghouse to build power stations outside the cities and, because the alternating current system had much less energy loss over long distances, it could also supply energy to more remote mines and factories. The final showdown took place at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. For the first time, electricity would bring power to the facilities of a world-class event. Westinghouse won the bid, as its design was much cheaper and more efficient than that of its rival. The triumph for Nikola Tesla was partial. On the one hand, his idea had finally prevailed and over the following decades the whole world would adopt it, but on the other hand, he never managed to see his extraordinary genius fully recognised. Tesla produced a total of around 700 patents, and his documentation and inventions are now recognised by UNESCO. The installations in the exhibition underline his reputation as the ‘Lord of Lightning’, achieved through theatrical performances in which he astounded audiences with his extraordinary mastery of electrical discharges and magnetic fields.
(1899 – Colorado Springs – Nikola Tesla – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
Colorado Springs where Tesla moved in 1899 and reproduced the famous artificial lightning. Experiment to illustrate the oscillator’s ability to produce electrical explosions of great power. The coil, partly shown in the photograph, creates an alternating movement of electricity from the earth into a large reservoir and back again at the rate of one hundred thousand alternations per second. The settings are such that the tank is full and bursts at each alternation just as the electrical pressure reaches its maximum. The discharge escapes with a deafening noise, striking an unconnected coil twenty-two feet away, and creating such a stir of electricity in the earth that sparks an inch long can be drawn from a water pipe three hundred feet from the laboratory.
The first person to transmit radio signals for communication was Englishman David Edward Hughes, who communicated by radio in Morse code over a distance of 500 metres in 1879. Tesla made a huge contribution to the technological development of what would become radio: he greatly improved experimental equipment, secured essential patents and even demonstrated a primitive form of radio remote control. The radio is a classic example of an invention that did not come about in one fell swoop, but from the contribution of many, who more or less at the same time realised that it was possible to communicate via electromagnetic waves. Marconi’s crucial merit was to turn the radio from an interesting experimental apparatus into a practical and functioning system of worldwide communication.
The studio in Via Presolana is sensitive to the subject of radio. In the architect Piero Castiglioni’s first interior lighting assignments, designed with his father Livio, he was responsible for both lighting and audiovisual design.
(1941 – Radio Personal Phonola – Livio Castiglioni – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)
Sound and light are the constant elements of research that Livio Castiglioni conducted between the 1930s and 1970s, working on product design, installations, acoustic installations and lighting. In April 1942, Gio Ponti wrote in the magazine “Stile”: “It is in Italy that a real style of radio equipment is being created. This is thanks to Livio Castiglioni who has been working on these things for years and who we would like to see also working on all current instruments. We would like him to supervise many industrialists and manufacturers of all kinds of equipment and not just radio equipment, as is the case today. At the next Triennale, he will be entrusted with the study of models of tools and instruments. (…) The Italian radio industry owes them a great deal and I am proud to have predicted what we see today”. (2)
(1) Nikola Tesla, Ben Johnston. My Inventions, 2017, Turin, Edizioni L’Età dell’Acquario
(2) Dario Scodeller. Livio and Piero Castiglioni. The project of light, 2003, Milan, Electa