The Tesla Coil: How To Make Electricity Jump

Nikola Tesla’s dream to make electricity wireless in the late 19th century has sent ripples throughout the science community over 100-years after his blueprints were drawn up. It is often touted as a conceptually easy product to build, but how exactly does it work?

The Tesla Coil: How To Make Electricity Jump
Photo by Beat Jau

Since the turn of the 20th century, the manufacturing company, Tesla, has been a continuous driver in the field of innovation. From making electric vehicles popular to their well-known and controversial CEO, Tesla is sure to continue making headlines as its reputation widens and the shift toward a new era in technology grows.

In 2014, the company release insight into their invention based on Nikola Tesla’s goal for wireless electricity. The term simply means the transmission of energy from one place to another without the use of wires. Currently, electricity is transferred via large cables that are located throughout the globe and connect the world one powerline at a time.

An Engineered Design

Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s goal to wirelessly supply power on a global scale, the company’s modern take on the Tesla Coil has the potential to remove the need for power lines altogether. First designed in the late 1800s by Nikola himself, the Tesla Coil was developed to be a looser version of the conventional transformer used at the time. The process utilizes electromagnetic force coupled with resonance - when electricity is shot from one coil to another to maximize output.

The 2014 design is based similarly to Nikola’s blueprints. The company built the Tesla Coil utilizing a primary and secondary coil that each have their capacitor – electrical energy storage unit. The two coils are connected via a spark gap, which is essentially open air between two electrodes used for electric sparks.

The coil design is typically made of copper due to its ability to soak up large amounts of electric charge. When plugged into an electrical source located outside, the primary coil utilizes durable copper to absorb large amounts of energy. That energy will eventually create oversaturation to the point where it deteriorates the air resistance located in the spark gap, thus creating a magnetic field.

The buildup is so powerful that it causes the field to collapse, creating an electrical current that ‘jumps’ from the primary to the secondary coil. Then the electricity flows so fast between the two coils that it leads to a burst of electrical current and can even wirelessly travel to a nearby source to power it.

A similar technological adaptation is currently used in small doses and variations for electronics such as radios and television. Any large-scale use for the design has been rendered impossible due to the few -albeit critical – flaws. This can be seen in the invention after a short period when the electricity ceases to flow between the two coils due to the spark gaps absorbing the built-up energy. That said, the updated Tesla design does create an opportunity for advancement in the future.

Lasting Impact

The concept is rather simple in retrospect and can even be done with a copper wire, glass bottles, and a mediocre knowledge of electricity. What sets Tesla’s coils apart from the average amateur playing with electricity is the large following that the company has. Though the technology is far from being utilized in any large capacity, the simplicity and scale of its announcement revolutionized the publics' comprehension of electric current and magnetic force.

Since then, many individuals have been inspired to follow suit, whether in the footsteps of Nikola Tesla or the company itself, leading to a resurgence of the design within the past decade. Recently, an 11-year-old girl in Tanzania became an internet sensation when she brought her mini replica of the Tesla coil to her school for the science fair. The young girl ended up winning first place and went on to say that she believes there to be a future for this technology in conjunction with solar energy for the sake of sustainability.

Since this announcement was made nearly 7 years ago, we can assume that the company has continued improving the design, given its massive resources and financial backing. If the model were to be improved and updated to be self-sustaining, the possibilities could be limitless, especially from an environmental standpoint. Wireless electricity could cut the number of resources typically needed for energy transfer, creating a domino effect of reduced manufacturing time, emissions, and waste.

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