Tesla’s unique place in the history of invention

Robert Curl, Nobel Prize in Chemistry ; Professor, Rice University, USA

I am interested in the behavior of molecules in a magnetic field and the units I use for the field are T. Thus receiving the Tesla Award is a particular pleasure for me because I am reminded constantly in my scientific research of Nikola Tesla. Among inventors Nikola Tesla occupies a unique position that I cannot imagine will ever be taken away from him . Let me explain. In science, every discovery is timeless. Once a new fact about Nature has been uncovered, it can never be discovered again. As a scientist, I like that. On the other hand, a new technology, no matter how radically new, usually is superseded by an even better technology. The phonograph has been replaced by digital music. Silver salt photography has been replaced by digital photography. Fluorescents have largely replaced incandescent lights (a development that Tesla foreshadowed). And fluorescents are being replaced by LEDs. Vacuum tubes are almost completely replaced by solid state devices.
Almost by its very nature, invention is transient. Improved technologies replace older technologies. Tesla’s unique place in the history of invention is that I cannot imagine that his AC motors will ever be replaced. They are irreplaceable today more than one hundred twenty years after Nikola Tesla invented them. Likewise three phase AC power is not likely to be superceded. The other long-lived invention made around the turn of the twentieth century, the airplane, has been altered by its development to an extent that the modern jetliner would almost be unrecognizable to the Wright brothers. But the AC motor of today has scarcely been changed from Tesla’s designs. Nikola Tesla was the inventive giant essential to development of the uses of electrical power. He envisioned the importance of what might be, the electric motor. He combined his vision with deep insight into the properties of electricity and magnetism to make the AC motor real. And of almost equal importance to the invention process, with great charm and personal magnetism, he excited those in profession and the general public about the value of his inventions.
When people had been getting along as things were for millennia, it takes great effort to convince them that their lives will be greatly improved by choosing the new. Today we still enjoy the fruits of his labors. I do not minimize Tesla’s many other inventions. The exact number of his patents worldwide appears to be unknown, but his known patents are well over two hundred. Here I emphasize his AC motor as the invention of greatest current impact.
The life and achievements are well worth study by all students.  Students will learn what it takes to be an inventor and what kind of inventor Tesla was.  There is a great contrast in styles between Nikola Tesla and the other great inventor of his time, Thomas Edison.  Edison would have an idea and then attempt to bring it to fruition by  tinkering with models.  Tesla, on the other hand, would think very deeply about what he was trying to create drawing on paper a number of versions of what he wanted.  When he then made a working model it would be very close to the final machine.  Both Tesla and Edison were men of determination, who were willing to work long and hard in order to achieve ultimate success.  While Edison did much to advance technology, no invention of his has an important place in modern society - his incandescent lamp is rapidly being replaced. There is nothing yet imagined that will replace Tesla's AC motor, a key element of the modern world.

Article from the book: "The essential Nikola Tesla: peacebuilding endeavor"


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