Electrifying Inventions: Michael Pravica on Why Nikola Tesla Was “One of Humanity’s Greatest Heroes”

Michael Pravica
Michael Pravica

Serbian-American inventor, engineer, and scientist, Nikola Tesla (1856–1943) made a number of breakthroughs in the production, transmission and application of electric power.

Dr. Michael Pravica is Associate Professor of Physics at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a member of HiPSEC (High Pressure and Engineering Center).

Q: Nikola Tesla is known to the public mainly for his invention and work on the alternating current. What advancements and/or inventions of his are less celebrated? How do they impact our daily lives? Can you give examples of modern appliances that would not exist without him?

A:  Nikola Tesla was the first person ever to demonstrate wireless remote control via his tuned LC (inductance/capacitance) circuit concept, which is the bedrock of modern communications including radio in 1898 in Madison Square Garden. Whereas Guglielmo Marconi received the Nobel Prize for his successful but passive transmission of wireless Morse code letter “s” across the Atlantic in 1901, Tesla received little or no recognition. Yet, modern communications (television, radio, shortwave, etc.) would be impossible without Tesla’s seminal idea of sending efficient signals at fixed (tuned) frequencies and receiving them in similar/symmetric/tuned way. All remote control devices such as garage door openers, television remotes, keyless ignition, the space shuttle, among many others, operate in this way. Many other technologies were developed from this concept beyond simple communication, including nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and electron spin resonance (ESR), which generated Nobel prizes and untold trillions of dollars of benefit for human beings except for Tesla. The US Supreme Court decided in 1943 that Tesla should have priority for the invention of the radio, but that decision was handed down a few months after his death on January 7, 1943.

Without the essential ingredient of the tuned circuit LC circuit, most of modern communications would be impossible (cell phone, television, radio, satellites, etc.). I can only imagine how different our world would be without these inventions. As far as his other achievements, such as alternating current and the precursor to fluorescent lighting, a brief list of appliances that would not be here today would be washing and drying machines, elevators, alternators, spark plugs, fans, hair dryers, and air conditioners. In fact, a better response to this part of the question is to ask what modern appliances would still be here if he had not made his contributions because most would be nearly impossible to use without alternating current.

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