Spark Gaps

Complementary Info, page created in November 2007. See also Edwin GRAY pages, about Spark Converters Gray index and the HV Marx Generators page


from ‘Electrical Discharges.pdf’, 50 pages, 234kb, in the files of the YahooGroup ‘alfenergy’

How the Spark, Glow, and Arc Work

Composed by J. B. Calvert. Created 3 November 2002. Last revised 4 April 2004

1. Introduction: Fundamental Processes – p.1
2. The Voltage-Current Characteristics – p.12
3. The Spark: Breakdown, Electron Avalanche, Townsend Discharge, Paschen’s Law, Geiger-Müller Tube – p.14
4. The Glow Discharge: Cathode Phenomena, Positive Column, Laser Pumping, Similitude, Sputtering – p.19
5. The Arc Discharge: Cathode Phenomena, Low and High Pressure Plasma, Negative Resistance, Carbon Arc in Air – p.31
6. Applications of Arcs: Welding, Lamps, Rectifiers, Switching, Protection, Fuses – p.39
7. References – p.48


An electrical discharge results from the creation of a conducting path between two points of different electrical potential in the medium in which the points are immersed. If the supply of electrical charge is continuous, the discharge is permanent, but otherwise it is temporary, and serves to equalize the potentials. Usually, the medium is a gas, often the atmosphere, and the potential difference is a large one, from a few hundred volts to millions of volts. If the two points are separated by a vacuum, there can be no discharge. The transfer of matter between the two points is necessary, since only matter can carry electric charge. This matter is usually electrons, each carrying a charge of 4.803 x 10-10 esu. Electrons are very light, 9.109 x 10-28 g, and so can be moved with little effort.

However, ions can also carry charge, although they are more than 1836 times heavier, and sometimes are important carriers. Where both electrons and ions are available, however, the electrons carry the majority of the current. Ions can be positively or negatively charged, usually positively, and carry small multiples of the electronic charge.

Electrical discharges have been studied since the middle of the 19th century, when vacuum pumps and sources of current electricity became available. These laboratory discharges in partially-evacuated tubes are very familiar, but there are also electrical discharges in nature, lightning being the primary example. There are also the aurora borealis and australis, St. Elmo’s Fire, sparks from walking on a rug in dry weather and rubbing cats, crackling sounds when clothes fresh from the dryer are separated, and similar phenomena, many resulting from the high potentials of static electricity. Technology offers a wealth of examples, such as arc welding, the corona discharge on high-tension lines, fluorescent lamps, including their automatic starters, neon advertising signs, neon and argon glow lamps, mercury and sodium lamps, mercury-arc lamps for illumination and UV, carbon arc lights, vacuum tubes, including gas-filled rectifiers, Nixie numerical indicators and similar devices. Some of these are historical, but all are interesting and often fascinating to watch.

A good reason for this article is also that information on electrical discharges is not easy to find in current literature, in spite of their importance in many fields of physics, astrophysics, atmospheric electricity and engineering. The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Physics has no entry for “electrical discharge” or “electric arc,” for example. The closest one can come are articles on plasma physics, which do not do the job.

Plasma physics, as it is generally presented, is a rather limited field mainly concerned with the luckless search for thermonuclear power. Every day we see many examples of discharges–street lights, neon signs, fluorescent lamps–so how they work must be valuable knowledge.

The two termini of a discharge are at different potentials. The higher, or positive, potential is at the anode, while the lower, or negative, potential is at the cathode. These electrodes are often conductors, but need not be. In a thunderstorm, a cloud electrode may simply be a region of excess charge distributed over a volume. These names were given by Michael Faraday, with the help of the classical scholar William Whewell, when he began to study electrochemistry and electrical discharges in the 1830’s. The word “anode” is from the Greek “aná-hodos” or “way in,” while “cathode” is from “katá-hodos,” or “way out.” Electrode is a later creation for “electro-hodos” or “electric way,” and is noncommittal as to the positive direction of the current. The conventional current is in the direction of positive charge, so electrons actually leave at the “way in” and enter at the “way out.”

Unless otherwise stated, we shall assume that the medium is a gas predominantly composed of neutral molecules (we won’t distinguish between molecules and atoms), which we usually treat as ideal. Then, the pressure p of the gas is simply related to its number density n by p = nkT, where T is the absolute temperature, and k is Boltzmann’s Constant, 1.38 x 10-16 erg/K. If T is in K, and n is in cm-3, then p is in dyne/cm2. In technical work, gas pressure is measured in mmHg, and 760 mmHg is atmospheric pressure, 1.0123 x 106 dyne/cm3, from which the conversion can be derived. At one atmosphere and 273K, the number density in a gas is 3.22 x 1018 cm-3, which is the same for all gases (Avogadro’s Law). The gas is normally electrically neutral, and contains neither ions nor electrons, and so is a nonconductor. In daily life, we rely on the air to be an insulator in our dealings with electricity.

The electrons, ions and neutral molecules are in incessant thermal motion, because their collisions are perfectly elastic.

In equilibrium, the velocities are distributed according to the Maxwell distribution, f(v) = (m/2PikT)3/2exp(-mv2/2kT)4Piv2, which integrates to unity with respect to dv. The electron temperature Te is usually very different from the ion and neutral temperature Tn at low pressures, because the electrons receive more energy from the electric fields in a discharge, and can exchange kinetic energy with the neutrals only with great difficulty, so they represent a reservoir of kinetic energy that is in very weak contact with the neutrals. The much greater mass of the ions and neutrals also means that they move at much lower velocities. Speeds given to the electrons by electric fields are often very much greater than thermal speeds, especially near the cathode, where the electric field is very high. These electrons, naturally, do not have a Maxwellian distribution until they have lost most of their energy in inelastic collisions and ionization. The rms velocity Square Root of (3kT/m) is the velocity of a particle with the average energy. Approximately 60% of the particles have less energy, 40% more. The average kinetic energy of a particle at temperature T is (3/2)kT.

If V is the difference in potential between the anode and cathode, and d is the distance between them, then the average potential gradient, or electric field, is V/d. Again, in technical work, V is measured in practical volts, the familiar ones in which a flashlight battery supplies 1.5 V. The Gaussian unit is the esu, about 300 V, which appears in theoretical arguments. Therefore, the field E will be in V/cm, or in statvolt/cm, and the conversion between them is easy. This average field will drive a positive ion in its direction, an electron in the opposite direction.

For a discharge to occur, there must usually be a source of electrons at the cathode, and the nature of this source controls the form of the discharge. Cosmic rays and natural radioactivity continually produce a small number of electrons and ions in all gases at the surface of the earth, and this gives air a small conductivity. The electrons will migrate to the anode, the ions to the cathode, and a small current will flow. This current has no visible effects, and can be detected and measured only with difficulty, but is always present. Any charged body attracts charges of the opposite sign that sooner or later will neutralize its charge though the usual reason, for the loss of charge is conduction over the surface of the supports of the body, which is normally far greater than the small space current from the ions and electrons normally present in the air.

More copious sources of electrons are necessary for a good discharge. One source is the photoelectric effect, when light of sufficiently short wavelength falls on a metal or semiconductor and liberates a photoelectron. Photons can also be absorbed by a molecule, which gives up an electron and becomes a positive ion.

The photon energy hí must be greater than the energy required to free the electron, the work function. Thermionic emission, the emission of electrons by a heated body, can supply heavy currents. The body must be heated to incandescence, and for efficient emission, its work function must be low. Tungsten has a work function of 4 eV, and has long been used as an electron emitter, since it also has a high melting point. Alkali metals have a small work function, but cannot be used by themselves because of their low melting points. Electrons striking a metal surface can knock loose secondary electrons readily, but this is of little use for discharges, since the electrons impact the anode, and secondary electrons would simply fall back into the anode, not add to the discharge current. However, positive ions can also create secondary electrons. Although this is not an efficient process, it produces electrons at the right place and can support a discharge.

Electrons already in the discharge, such as the random electrons produced by cosmic rays and radioactivity, can add to their number by ionizing gas molecules by collision. Each ionizing collision produces a new electron, and a positive ion that moves the other way, an ion pair. An electron cannot do this unless it has acquired sufficient kinetic energy by being accelerated in an electric field. There are two ways this can be done. If the electron makes no collisions, even a small electric field will allow it to accumulate energy in a long-enough run.

In this case, KE = mv2/2 = eEx, where E is the field and x is the distance traveled. Electron energies are often quoted in electron-volts, abbreviated eV, and such that the energy U in eV is given by eU = eEx, so that U is just the potential drop in the distance x. On the other hand, if the probability of collision of the electron in a distance dx is dx/Le, where Le is called the electron mean free path, and Le is much smaller than the distance x, then the speed of the electron is given by v = KE, where K is the electron mobility, in cm/s per V/cm, for example. Then, the only way for the electron to accelerate is to find a larger field E.

The mean free path L is inversely proportional to the pressure, so pressure has a great effect on how an electron gains energy. The molecules of the gas also have a mean free path, but since molecules are larger, their mean free path L is shorter than Le. As an estimate, we can take Le = 5.64L. In Ne, the mean free path at 760 mmHg and 273K is 1.93 x 10-5 cm, while in air it is 9.6 x 10-6 cm. By “air” we mean the usual mixture of nitrogen and oxygen, and the values are an average.

The energy required to ionize neon, called the ionization energy, in the reaction Ne -> Ne+ + e, is 21.559 eV, and to knock two electrons off requires 41.07 eV. To raise a Ne atom to its first excited state requires 16.58 eV, which is called the resonance energy. This gives an idea of the energy required to produce an ion pair. Since most collisions do not result in ionization, and there are many ways to fritter energy away uselessly, the average energy per ion pair produced is greater than the ionization potential, rather closer to twice this value. To give an electron sufficient energy to ionize Ne at one atmosphere, the field strength would have to be E = 21.559/(5.64)(1.93 x 10-5), or about 200,000 V/cm, an extremely high field that would have some untoward effects. At 1 mmHg, the field would have to be 260 V/cm, a more tractable value.

The energy required to excite a molecule or atom to its first excited state above the ground state is called the resonance energy, and is, of course, less than the ionization energy. The inert gases, which have a closed shell of electrons in the ground state, have very large resonance energies. For He, it is 19.81V, and for Ne, 16.62 eV. These levels are also metastable, which means that a transition to the ground state by radiation is difficult, and they may retain their excitation energy for an extended period, perhaps until they collide with a wall, or experience another collision with an electron or atom.

This makes cumulative ionization possible, where an atom can be ionized by multiple collisions in which the electrons have insufficient energy to ionize in a single collision. The energy of a metastable can be transferred to a different atom or molecule by a collision of the second kind. Alkali metals, with a single s electron outside a closed shell, have very low resonance potentials. For sodium, Vi = 5.138V and Vr = 2.102V.

For cesium, the figures are 3.893V and 1.39V, respectively. Mercury, often used in discharges, has Vi = 10.43V and Vr = 4.67V, and the lowest excited states, 3P’s are metastable to the 1S ground state (but still give a strong ultraviolet line). The spectroscopic notation is included for those who will appreciate it. The fundamentals of atomic structure and spectra are important in understanding discharges.

The emission of light is one of the principal characteristics of discharges. Light of a definite frequency is emitted when an excited atom falls to a lower energy level. If there is an electric dipole transition moment, then the transition is called allowed, and occurs in about 10-8 s if nothing intervenes. The collision frequency is about 1011 per second at atmospheric pressure, so usually the excitation energy is lost in a collision before it can be radiated. At 1 mmHg, however, the collision frequency is comparable to the radiation lifetime, and radiation is a possibility. Radiation is always a competition between de-excitation processes. If the dipole transition moment is forced to be zero by symmetry considerations, then radiation may occur by other means, such as magnetic dipole or quadrupole radiation, but the radiative lifetime for these is much longer, so they are not seen even at 1 mmHg pressure. These are forbidden transitions. They are not really forbidden, just improbable. At higher pressures, excited atoms are continually affected by collisions, which broaden the lines emitted. At still higher pressures, the atom states are smeared out, and the radiation begins to assume the characteristics of black-body thermal radiation.

Mercury has strong lines at 253.65 nm, 404.66 nm, 407.78 nm, 435.84 nm, 546.1 nm, 576.96 nm and 579.06 nm (and many others not as strong). The first is the resonance line in the ultraviolet that strongly excites fluorescence, and the next two are at the short-wavelength limit of human vision. The cyan line at 436 nm, the green line at 546 nm, and the yellow doublet at 577 and 579 nm can easily be seen in the spectrum of a fluorescent tube, and should be familiar to all. They can be separated by filters for use in optics experiments, and this was commonly done before the He-Ne laser appeared around 1971. The 254 nm, 408 nm and 577 nm lines are all “forbidden” by the usual selection rules, but happen to be very strong in Hg, where singlet-triplet combinations among lower levels are not very forbidden.

If an electron frees another by an ionizing collision, then these two can both free additional electrons, and so on. This creates an electron avalanche, which may send a burst of electrons toward the anode, leaving in their wake a cloud of slow positive ions that will make their way to the cathode. The net result is to multiply the original electron current, an effect used in gas phototubes to increase the photocurrent for a given amount of light. This does not start a sustained discharge, but merely increases the current that otherwise would be available. This type of discharge produces little light, so it is called a dark or Townsend discharge, after the man who studied them in detail first.

That cloud of positive ions will sooner or later collide with the cathode. It is rather unlikely for a positive ion to snatch an electron from the few that are available while it is moving through the gas. Recombination is a very difficult process, since only one particle is the outcome, rather than the three particles that come out of an ionization, so it is hard to conserve both momentum and energy. Therefore, most of the positive ions created in an electron avalanche reach a surface eventually, and they are driven to the cathode by the electric field. When they arrive, they recombine at the surface, and in some cases eject an electron. For Ne on an Fe cathode, one out of about every 45 ions produces an electron. However, if the electron avalanche produces more than 45 electrons, then there will be sufficient positive ions to replace the electron that originally left the cathode (or came in from elsewhere). Now the discharge produces its own electrons, without relying on cosmic rays or natural radioactivity, and becomes self-maintained. This is a significant event in the life of a discharge, and usually means that the discharge becomes evident through light or noise.

The potential between anode and cathode at which this occurs is called the sparking potential Vs. Now the whole path between anode and cathode becomes conducting because of the electrons and ions distributed along it.

Unless something limits the current, such as the disappearance of the potential difference, it increases rapidly and without bounds. The ion bombardment heats up the cathode surface, which becomes incandescent, and begins to emit electrons thermionically, without reference to the number of ions coming in or the efficiency of the electron avalanche. Any spot that becomes hotter than its neighbor, tends to become even hotter as the extra thermionic electrons attract the positive ions to the spot. This, the final state of the discharge, is called an arc. The name came from the way the path of the discharge, when arranged to be horizontal, rose in a flaming arch, or arc. It requires very little potential difference to support the arc, mainly just enough to keep the path of the discharge supplied with ions to replace those lost in various ways. A lightning stroke is an example of such a discharge, but with anode and cathode that are quite different from those in a carbon arc light. In the carbon arc light, the discharge is started by drawing the carbons apart, which produces an arc at once, since the discharge does not have the difficult task of establishing a conducting path over a great distance, as in lightning. An arc is also produced whenever an electric circuit is interrupted, and must be extinguished before it does any damage.

The nature of a discharge depends, as we have seen, on the method for supplying electrons at the cathode, and on how the discharge is confined. The lightning stroke, and the carbon arc, are both unconfined arcs. The lightning stroke draws its electrons from the cloud, its cathode, and transmits them to the earth, its anode. The carbon arc obtains its electrons from the cathode spot on the negative carbon, which it heats to incandescence. Both are self-confined, the surface of the conducting channel arranging itself so that the net outward current is zero. A discharge between metal electrodes in a glasstube that gets its electrons from positive-ion bombardment of the cathode, and is confined by the glass walls, is called a glow discharge. Glow discharges are useful and convenient to study, so their properties are very familiar, if not those of the majority of discharges. A discharge may exist in the vicinity of a sharp point, or other place with a small radius of curvature where the electric field is increased significantly from its average value. A negative potential on the point makes it a cathode, while the anode is an indefinite volume in the surrounding gas. A positive potential makes it an anode, and attracts electrons from an indefinite surrounding volume, which becomes the cathode. These two discharges look quite different with constant potentials, but with alternating current the opposites succeed one another and make an average impression. If the discharge occurs at about atmospheric pressure, it is called corona.

In any discharge, multiple processes compete at the electrodes and in the gas, so explanations and theories can become subjects of dispute. A theory usually takes into account only the principal process operating under the conditions of the problem, and this is often quite satisfactory. Sometimes different assumptions and mechanisms can lead to the same outcome, which further complicates things. The reader should keep in mind that complete explanations are probably impossible in many cases, and we must be satisfied with qualitative or semi-quantitative results. Also, the variety of phenomena in discharges is very rich and depends on many factors, such as purity and surface preparation, that are difficult to quantify.

The whole variety cannot be mentioned here, only what is typical under reasonable assumptions. There is great scope for thought and reasoning in this field, which makes it fascinating, along with the beauty of the phenomena.

page 13


Let’s now consider a typical laboratory discharge, taking place in a glass tube with metallic electrodes. The nature of the electrodes has little effect on the characteristics of the discharge.

Commonly-used materials are carbon, platinum, iron, nickel or tungsten. The voltage source E is connected in series with a current-limiting resistance R, so that the voltage between anode and cathode is V = E – IR. This relation is expressed by the load lines in the diagram, for values of R equal to R1 > R2 > R1. The irregular curve is the V-I characteristic of this device, distorted to show the various regions conveniently. Point A is a stable point of operation for R = R1. This can be seen as follows: suppose the current I to be slightly reduced for some reason. Then V becomes greater, according to the load line, while the voltage between anode and cathode becomes smaller. The difference in voltage acts to increase the current, restoring it to the value before the disturbance. If the current is slightly increased, we find a voltage deficit, which reduces the current, again bringing the operating point back to the original place.

This will always happen if the V-I curve is more steeply inclined than the load line. At point A, the current is no more than a microampere, the discharge is dark, and is not selfsustained. We are in the Townsend region.

Now imagine R reduced steadily from R1 to R2. Point A moves up the curve until the sparking potential is reached. Now the voltage is sharply reduced, and the operating point is B, which is stable. The discharge is now self-sustaining as a glow discharge, and cathode heating is not sufficient to cause transition to an arc. If R is further decreased, towards R3, the voltage across the discharge increases until point B’ isreached. Although B’ is stable with respect to small fluctuations, cathode heating may be enough to increase the electron supply and lower the discharge voltage. This change is cooperative, and the discharge quickly moves to point C, where V is lower and I is greater. This is the arc, and operating point C is stable. However, if R is further reduced, the current will increase without bound until something melts. The regions where the discharge type changes are shown cross-hatched, to show that the actual values may not be clearly defined. This characteristic tells a lot about the circuit behavior of discharges, but it does not say much about the dynamic relations, only about the stable operating points. We shall discuss each of the principal discharge species below.

Paper on Cold Electricity


Cold Electricity, Electron Avalanche and Electron-Positron Annihilation – by Gary Magratten, Oct. 12, 2006. (Gary is still process of completing the paper, in which he is consulting a masters in mathematics to double check his equations.)

Abstract: “Cold Electricity is a process that involves electron avalanche in an open air, high voltage, spark gap with electron – positron annihilation. My research and experimentation has let me through an investigation of the work of Leonard B. Loeb, John M. Meek, P.A.M. Dirac, Paramahamsa Tewari, Edwin Gray, Nikola Tesla and Peter Lindemann, D.Sc.

“The background research will be explained in detail with proper credit to these gentlemen’s work. The theoretical explanation of Cold Electricity will then be addressed. The theoretical explanation and working mathematical models of avalanche and electron-positron annihilation, and the subsequent implosion of radiant energy will then be examined. Experimental evidence will then be presented with an overview of apparatus necessary to produce Cold Electricity.

“It is the purpose of this engineering report to solve two electrical engineering problems essential to the design of a Cold Electricity circuit. The first is how many electrons are introduced into a circuit by the process of electron avalanche from a spark gap exposed to open air given the surface area of the anode and cathode, the volume of air in the gap, and the voltage connected to the cathode. The second engineering problem is what is the net effect of the annihilation of electron-positron pairs on the magnetic field surrounding the conductor from the cathode to the positive potential plate of the capacitor, given the diameter of the conductor, the are of the surface of the positive plate of the capacitor, and the voltage.”

The Complete Patents of Nikola Tesla


The Original Discovery of ‘the Sparking Radiant Effect’


Tesla was an avid and professional experimenter throughout his life. His curiosity was of such an intense nature that he was able to plumb the myster­ies of an electrical peculiarity with no regard for his own comfort. Whereas Edison would work and sleep for a few hours on the floor, Tesla would never sleep until he had achieved success in an experimental venture. This mara­thon could last for days. He was once observed to work through a seventy-two hour period without fatigue. His technicians were in awe of him.

The Victorian Era was flooding over with new electrical discoveries by the day. Keeping up with the sheer volume of strange electrical discoveries and curiosities was a task, which Tesla thoroughly enjoyed … and preferred. His Polyphase System in perfect working order, the pleasurable occupation of studying new gazettes and scientific journals often fascinated his mind to the exclusion of all other responsibilities. A millionaire and world-heralded genius before the age of thirty, Tesla sought the pure kind of research he had so long craved.

Whenever he observed any intriguing electrical effect he immediately launched into experimental study with a hundred variations. Each study brought him such a wealth of new knowledge that, based on phenomena which he observed, he was immediately able to formulate new inventions and acquire new patents.

Tesla’s New York laboratories had several sections. This complex was arranged as a multi-level gallery, providing a complete research and produc­tion facility. Tesla fabricated several of his large transformers and generators in the lower floors, where the machine shops of this building were housed. The upper floors contained his private research laboratories. He had attracted a loyal staff of technicians. Of all these, Kolman Czito was a trusted friend who would stand by Tesla for the remainder of his life. Czito was the ma­chine shop foreman in each of Tesla’s New York laboratories.

Tesla observed that instantaneous applications of either direct or alternat­ing current to lines often caused explosive effects. While these had obvious practical applications in improvement and safety, Tesla was seized by certain peculiar aspects of the phenomenon. He had observed these powerful blasts when knife-switches were quickly closed and opened in his Polyphase Sys­tem. Switch terminals were often blasted to pieces when the speed of the switchman matched the current phase.

Tesla assessed the situation very accurately. Suddenly applied currents will stress conductors both electrically and mechanically. When the speed of the switch-action is brief enough, and the power reaches a sufficiently high crescendo, the effects are not unlike a miniature lightning stroke. Electricity initially heats the wire, bringing it to vapor point. The continual application of current then blasts the wire apart by electrostatic repulsion. But was this mechanistic explanation responsible for every part of the phenomenon?

The most refractory metals were said to be vaporized by such electrical blasts. Others had used this phenomenon to generate tiny granular diamonds. Yes, there were other aspects about this violent impulse phenomenon, which tantalized him. Sufficiently intrigued, he developed a small lightning “gen­erator” consisting of a high voltage dynamo and small capacitor storage bank. His idea was to blast sections of wire with lightning-like currents. He wanted to observe the mechanically explosive effects, which wires sustain under sud­den high-powered electrifications.

Instantaneous applications of high current and high voltage could literally convert thin wires into vapor. Charged to high direct current potentials, his capacitors were allowed to discharge across a section of thin wire. Tesla con­figured his test apparatus to eliminate all possible current alternations. The application of a single switch contact would here produce a single, explosive electrical surge: a direct current impulse resembling lightning. At first Tesla hand-operated the system, manually snapping a heavy knife switch on and off. This became less favorable as the dynamo voltages were deliberately increased.

He quickly closed the large knife switch held in his gloved hand. Bang! The wire exploded. But as it did so, Tesla was stung by a pressure blast of needle-like penetrations. Closing the dynamo down, he rubbed his face, neck, arms, chest, and hands. The irritation was distinct. He thought while the dy­namo whirred down to a slow spin. The blast was powerful. He must have been sprayed by hot metal droplets as small as smoke particles. Though he examined his person, he fortunately found no wounds. No evidence of the stinging blast, which he so powerful felt.

Placing a large glass plate between himself and the exploding wire, he performed the test again. Bang! The wire again turned to vapor…but the pres­sured stinging effect was still felt. But, what was this? How were these sting­ing effects able to penetrate the glass plate? Now he was not sure whether he was experiencing a pressure effect or an electrical one. The glass would have screened any mechanical shrapnel, but would not appreciably shield any elec­trical effects.

Through careful isolation of each experimental component, Tesla gradu­ally realized that he was observing a very rare electrical phenomenon. Each “bang” produced the same unexpected shock response in Tesla, while exploding small wire sections into vapor. The instantaneous burst produced strange effects never observed with alternating currents. The painful shock­ing sensation appeared each time he closed or opened the switch. These sud­den shock currents were IMPULSES, not alternations. What surprised him was the fact that these needle-like shocks were able to reach him from a distance: he was standing almost ten feet from the discharge site!

These electrical irritations expanded out of the wire in all directions and filled the room in a mystifying manner. He had never before observed such an effect. He thought that the hot metal vapor might be acting as a “carrier” for the electrical charges. This would explain the strong pressure wave ac­companied by the sensation of electrical shock. He utilized longer wires. When the discharge wire was resistive enough, no explosion could occur.

Wire in place, the dynamo whirred at a slower speed. He threw the switch for a brief instant, and was again caught off guard by the stinging pressure wave! The effect persisted despite the absence of an explosive conductor. Here was a genuine mystery. Hot vapor was not available to “carry” high voltage charges throughout the room. No charge carriers could be cited in this instance to explain the stinging nature of the pressure wave. So what was happening here?

The pressure wave was sharp and strong, like a miniature thunderclap. It felt strangely “electrical” when the dynamo voltage was sufficiently high. In fact, it was uncomfortably penetrating when the dynamo voltage was raised beyond certain thresholds. It became clear that these pressure waves might be electrified. Electrified sound waves. Such a phenomenon would not be unexpected when high voltages were used. Perhaps he was fortunate enough to observe the rare phenomenon for the first time.

He asked questions. How and why did the charge jump out of the line in this strange manner? Here was a phenomenon, which was not described in any of the texts with which he was familiar. And he knew every written thing on electricity. Thinking that he was the victim of some subtle, and possibly deadly short circuit, he rigorously examined the circuit design. Though he searched, he could find no electrical leakages. There were simply no paths for any possible corona effects to find their way back into the switching ter­minal, which he held.

Deciding to better insulate the arrangement in order that all possible line leakages could be eradicated, he again attempted the experiment. The knife switch rapidly closed and opened, he again felt the unpleasant shock just as painfully as before. Right through the glass shield! Now he was perplexed. Desiring total distance from the apparatus, he modified the system once more by making it “automatic”.

He could freely walk around the room during the test. He could hold the shield or simply walk without it. A small rotary spark switch was arranged in place of the hand-held knife switch. The rotary switch was arranged to inter­rupt the dynamo current in slow, successive intervals. The system was actu­ated, the motor switch cranked it contacts slowly. Snap … snap … snap … each contact produced the very same room-filling irritation.

This time it was most intense. Tesla could not get away from the shocks, regardless of his distance from the apparatus across his considerably large gallery hall. He scarcely could get near enough to deactivate the rotating switch. From what he was able to painfully observe, thin sparks of a bright blue-white color stood straight out of the line with each electrical contact.

The shock effects were felt far beyond the visible spark terminations. This seemed to indicate that their potential was far greater than the voltage ap­plied to the line. A paradox! The dynamo charge was supplied at a tension of fifteen thousand volts, yet the stinging sparks were characteristics of electro­static discharges exceeding some two hundred fifty thousand volts. Some­how this input current was being transformed into a much higher voltage by an unknown process. No natural explanation could be found. No scientific explanation sufficed. There was simply not enough data on the phenomenon for an answer. And Tesla knew that this was no ordinary phenomenon. Somewhere in the heart of this activity was a deep natural secret. Secrets of this kind always opened humanity into new revolutions.

Tesla considered this strange voltage multiplying effect from several viewpoints. The problem centered around the fact that there was no magnetic induction taking place. Transformers raise or lower voltage when current is changing. Here were impulses. Change was happening during the impulse. But there was no transformer in the circuit. No wires were close enough for magnetic inductions to take place. Without magnetic induction, there could theoretically be no transformation effect. No conversion from low to high voltage at all. Yet, each switch snap brought both the radiating blue-white sparks and their painful sting.


Tesla noted that the strange sparks were more like electrostatic discharges. If the sparks had been direct current arcs reaching from the test line, he would surely have been killed with the very first close of the switch. The physical pressure and stinging pain of these sparks across such distances could not be explained. This phenomenon had never been reported by those who should have seen and felt its activities.

Tesla gradually came to the conclusion that the shock effect was some­thing new, something never before observed. He further concluded that the effect was never seen before because no one had ever constructed such a powerful impulse generator. No one had ever reported the phenomenon be­ cause no one had ever generated the phenomenon. Tesla once envisioned a vortex of pure energy while looking into a sunset. The result of this great Providential vision was Polyphase current. A true revelation. But this, this was an original discovery found through an accident. It was an empirical discovery of enormous significance. Here was a new electrical force, an utterly new species of electrical force, which should have been incorporated into the electrical equations of James Clerk Max­well. Surprisingly, it was not.

Tesla now questioned his own knowledge. He questioned the foundations on which he had placed so much confidence in the last several years. Max­well was the “rule and measure” by which all of Tesla’s Polyphase genera­tors had been constructed. Tesla penetrated the validity of Maxwell’s math­ematical method. It was well known that Maxwell had derived his math­ematical descriptions of electromagnetic induction from a great collection of available electrical phenomena. Perhaps he had not studied enough of the phenomena while doing so.

Perhaps newer phenomena had not been discovered, and were therefore unavailable to Maxwell for consideration. How was Maxwell justified in stat­ing his equations as “final”? In deriving the laws of electromagnetic induc­tion, Maxwell had imposed his own “selection process” when deciding which electrical effects were the “basic ones”. There were innumerable electrical phenomena, which had been observed since the eighteenth century. Maxwell had difficulty selecting what he considered to be “the most fundamental” induction effects from the start. The selection process was purely arbitrary. After having “decided” which induction effects were “the most fundamen­tal”, Maxwell then reduced these selected cases and described them math­ematically. His hope was to simplify matters for engineers who were design­ing new electrical machines. The results were producing “prejudicial” re­sponses in engineers who could not bear the thought of any variations from the “standard”. Tesla had experienced this kind of thematic propaganda be­fore, when he was a student. The quantitative wave of blindness was catching up with him.

Tesla and others knew very well that there were strange and anomalous forms of electromagnetic induction, which were constantly, and accidentally being observed. These seemed to vary as the experimental apparatus varied. New electrical force discoveries were a regular feature of every Nature Magazine issue. Adamant in the confidence that all electrical phenomena had been both observed and mathematically described, academicians would be very slow to accept Tesla’s claims.

But this academic sloth is not what bothered Tesla. He had already found adequate compensation for his superior knowledge in the world of industry. Tesla, now in possession of an effect, which was not predicted by Maxwell, began to question his own knowledge. Had he become a “mechanist”, the very thing which he reviled when a student? Empirical fact contradicted what that upon he based his whole life’s work. Goethe taught that nature leads humanity.

The choice was clear: accept the empirical evidence and reject the conventional theory. For a time he struggled with a way to “derive” the shock effect phenomenon by mathematically wrestling “validity” from Maxwell’s equations … but could not. A new electrical principle had been revealed. Tesla would take this, as he did the magnetic vortex, and from it weave a new world.

What had historically taken place was indeed unfortunate. Had Maxwell lived after Tesla’s accidental discovery, then the effect might have been included in the laws. Of course, we have to assume that Maxwell would have “chosen” the phenomenon among those, which he considered “fundamen­tal”.

There was no other way to see his new discovery now. Empirical fact contradicted theoretical base. Tesla was compelled to follow. The result was an epiphany, which changed Tesla’s inventive course. For the remainder of his life he would make scientific assertions, which few could believe, and fewer yet would reproduce. There yet exist several reproducible electrical phenomena, which cannot be predicted by Maxwell. They continually appear whenever adventuresome experimenters make accidental observations.


High voltage impulse currents produced a hitherto unknown radiant ef­fect. In fact, here was an electrical “broadcast” effect whose implementation in a myriad of bizarre designs would set Tesla apart from all other inventors. This new electrical force effect was a preeminent discovery of great histori­cal significance. Despite this fact, few academicians grasped its significance as such. Focused now on dogmatizing Maxwell’s work, they could not ac­cept Tesla’s excited announcements. Academes argued that Tesla’s effect could not exist. They insisted that Tesla revise his statements.

Tesla’s mysterious effect could not have been predicted by Maxwell be­cause Maxwell did not incorporate it when formulating his equations. How could he have done so, when the phenomenon was just discovered? Tesla now pondered the academic ramifications of this new effect. What then of his own and possibly other electrical phenomena, which were not incorpo­rated into Maxwell’s force laws? Would academes now ignore their exist­ence? Would they now even dare to reject the possibility of such phenomena on the basis of an incomplete mathematical description?

Seeing that the effect could grant humanity enormous possibilities when once tamed, Tesla wished to study and implement the radiant electrical action under much safer conditions. The very first step, which he took before proceeding with this experimental line, was the construction of special grounded copper barriers: shields to block the electrical emanations from reaching him.

They were large, body-sized mantles of relatively thick copper. He grounded these to insure his own complete safety. In electrical terms, they formed a “Faraday Cage” around him. This assembly would block out all static discharges from ever reaching Tesla during the tests. Now he could both observe and write what he saw with confidence.

Positioned behind his copper mantle, Tesla initiated the action. ZZZZZZ … the motorized switch whirring, dynamo voltage interrupted sev­eral hundred times per second, the shock action was now continuous. He felt a steady rhythm of electrostatic irritations right through the barrier accompa­nied by a pressure wave, which kept expanding. An impossibility. No electri­cal influence should have passed through the amount of copper, which com­posed the shield. Yet this energetic effect was penetrating, electrically shocking, and pressured. He had no words to describe this aspect of the new phenomenon. The shocks really stung.

Tesla was sure that this new discovery would produce a completely new breed of inventions, once tamed and regulated. Its effects differed completely from those observed in high frequency alternating current. These special ra­diant sparks were the result of non-reversing impulses. In fact, this effect relied on the non-reversing nature of each applied burst for its appearance. A quick contact charge by a powerful high voltage dynamo was performing a feat of which no alternating generator was capable. Here was a demonstra­tion of “broadcast electricity”.

Most researchers and engineers are fixed in their view of Nikola Tesla and his discoveries. They seem curiously rigidified in the thought that his only realm of experimental developments laid in alternating current electricity. This is an erroneous conception which careful patent study reveals. Few recog­nize the documented facts that, after his work with alternating currents was completed, Tesla switched over completely to the study of impulse currents. His patents from this period to the end of his career are filled with the termi­nology equated with electrical impulses alone.

The secret lay principally in the direct current application in a small time interval. Tesla studied this time increment, believing that it might be possible to eliminate the pain field by shortening the length of time during which the switch contact is made. In a daring series of experiments, he developed rapid mechanical rotary switches, which handled very high direct voltage poten­tials. Each contact lasted an average of one ten-thousandth second.

Exposing himself to such impulses of very low power, he discovered to his joy and amazement that the pain field was nearly absent. In its place was a strange pressure effect, which could be felt right through the copper barri­ers. Increasing the power levels of this device produced no pain increase, but did produce an intriguing increased pressure field. The result of simple inter­rupted high voltage DC, the phenomenon was never before reported except by witnesses of close lightning strokes. This was erroneously attributed how­ever to pressure effects in air.

Not able to properly comprehend their nature at first, Tesla also conservatively approached the pressure phenomenon as due to air pressure. He had first stated that the pressure field effect was due to sharp sound waves, which proceeded outward from the suddenly charged line. In fact, he reported this in a little-known publication where he first announced the discovery. Calling the pressure effects “electrified sound waves”, he described their penetrating nature in acoustic terms.

Further experimentation however, gradually brought the new awareness that both the observed pressure effect and electrical shock fields were not taking place in air at all. He demonstrated that these actions could take place in oil immersions. Impulse charged lines were placed in mineral oil and care­fully watched. Strong pressure projections emerged from sharp wire ends in the oil, as if air were streaming out under high pressure.

Tesla first believed that this stream was wire-absorbed air driven off by electrical pressure. Continual operation of the phenomenon convinced him that the projected stream was not air at all. Furthermore, he was not at a loss to explain the effect, but was reluctant to mention his own theory of what had been generated by high voltage direct current impulses.

Tesla made electrical measurements of this projective stream. One lead of a galvanometer was connected to a copper plate, the other grounded. When impulses were applied to wire line, the unattached and distant meter registered a continual direct current. Current through space without wires! Now here was something which impulses achieved, never observed with alternat­ing currents of any frequency.

Analysis of this situation proved that electrical energy or electrically pro­ductive energies were being projected from the impulse device as rays, not waves. Tesla was amazed to find these rays absolutely longitudinal in their action through space, describing them in a patent as “light-like rays”. These observations conformed with theoretical expectations described in 1854 by Kelvin.

In another article Tesla calls them “dark-rays”, and “rays which are more light-like in character”. The rays neither diminished with the inverse square of the distance nor the inverse of the distance from their source. They seemed to stretch out in a progressive shock-shell to great distances without any ap­parent loss.


Nikola Tesla now required greater power levels than those provided by his mechanical rotary switch system. He also saw the need for controlling ultra-­rapid current interruptions of high repetition (“succession”) rates. No me­chanical switch could perform in this manner. He had to envision and devise some new means by which ultra-rapid interruptions could be obtained. In his best and most efficient system, highly charged capacitors were allowed to impulsively discharge across special heavy-duty magnetic arcs.

The magnetic arc gap was capable of handling the large currents required by Tesla. In achieving powerful, sudden impulses of one polarity, these were the most durable. Horn shaped electrodes were positioned with a powerful permanent magnetic field. Placed at right angles to the arc itself, the currents, which suddenly formed in this magnetic space, were accelerated along the horns until they were extinguished. Rapidly extinguished!

Arcs were thus completely extinguished within a specified time incre­ment. Tesla configured the circuit parameters so as to prevent capacitor alternations from occurring through the arc space. Each arc discharge represented a pure unidirectional impulse of very great power. No “contaminating current reversals” were possible or permissible.

Reversals … alternations … would ruin the “shock broadcast”. The effect was never observed when alternating currents were engaged. High voltage was supplied by a large dynamo. Tesla could speed or slow this dynamo with a hand operated rheostat. Power was applied in parallel across the capacitor. The magnetic arc was linked almost directly to one side of this capacitor, a long and thick copper strap connecting the magnetic arc and the far capacitor plate.

This simple asymmetric positioning of the magnetic arc discharger to one side of the dynamo supply produced pure unidirectional electropositive or electronegative impulses as desired. Tesla designed this very simple and pow­erfully effective automatic switching system for achieving ultra-rapid impulses of a single polarity. Capacitor values, arc distances, magnetic fields and dynamo voltages were all balanced and adjusted to yield a repetitive train of ultra-short singular impulses without “fly back” effects.

The system is not really well understood by engineers, the exceptional activities of the arc plasma introducing numerous additional features to the overall system. While the effects, which Tesla claimed, can be reproduced with electron tube impulse circuitry, these produce decidedly inferior effects. The overall power of the basic arc discharge is difficult to equal. Tesla even­tually enclosed the magnetic arc, immersing the gap space in mineral oil. This blocked premature arcing, while very greatly increasing the system out­put.

Most imagine that the Tesla impulse system is merely a “very high fre­quency alternator”. This is a completely erroneous notion, resulting in ef­fects, which can never equal those to which Tesla referred. The magnetic discharge device was a true stroke of genius. It rapidly extinguishes capaci­tor charge in a single disruptive blast. This rapid current rise and decline formed an impulse of extraordinary power. Tesla called this form of automatic arc switching a “disruptive discharge” circuit, distinguishing it from numerous other kinds of arc discharge systems. It is very simply a means for interrupting a high voltage direct current without allowing any backward current alternations. When these conditions are satisfied, the Tesla Effect is then observed.

The asymmetrical positioning of the capacitor and the magnetic arc determines the polarity of the impulse train. If the magnetic arc device is placed near the positive charging side, then the strap is charged negative and the resultant current discharge is decidedly negative.

Tesla approached the testing of his more powerful systems with certain fear. Each step of the testing process was necessarily a dangerous one. But he discovered that when the discharges exceeded ten thousand per second, the painful shock effect was absent. Nerves of the body were obviously incapable of registering the separate impulses. But this insensitivity could lead to a most seductive death. The deadly aspects of electricity might remain. Tesla was therefore all the more wary of the experiments.

He noticed that, though the pain field was gone, the familiar pressure effect remained. In its place came a defined and penetrating heat. Tesla was well aware that such heat could signal internal electrocution. He had already made a thorough study of these processes, recognizing that such heating pre­cedes the formation of electrical arcs through the body. Nevertheless, he ap­plied power to the dynamo in small but steady intervals.

Each increase brought increase in the internal heating effects. He remained poised at each power level, sensing and scoping his own physiology for danger signs. He continued raising the power level until the magnetic arc reached its full buzzing roar. Tesla found that this heat could be adjusted and, when not extreme, was completely enjoyable. So soothing, relaxing, and comfort­able was this manifestation that Tesla daily exposed himself to the energies. An electrical “sauna”.

He later reported these findings in medical journals, freely offering the discovery to the medical world for its therapeutic benefits. Tesla was a noto­rious user of all such therapies from this time on, often falling into a deep sleep in the warm and penetrating influences. Once, having overindulged the electro-sauna therapy, he fell into a profoundly deep sleep from which he emerged a day later! He reported that this experience was not unpleasant, but realized that proper “electro-dosages” would necessarily have to be deter­mined by medical personnel.

During this time, Tesla found shorter impulse lengths where the heating effect disappeared altogether, rendering the radiance absolutely harmless. These impulse trains were so very high that the deepest nerves of one’s body could not sense the permeating radiant energy field. Now he could pursue his vision of broadcast energy systems without fear of rendering to humanity a technological curse, rather than a true blessing.


Tesla operated the magnetic arc system at higher power levels, experimenting with various impulse lengths and repetition rates. He measured the mysterious electrical current, which apparently flowed through space from this system. These radiant fields operated at far greater power than before. Strange effects were suddenly appearing at certain distances from the mag­netic impulser.

For one thing, Tesla noticed that metallic surfaces near the impulser became covered with white brush-like corona discharges. While the sparks played in trails across the metal surfaces, Tesla observed physical movement among the metal objects. Tensions and rocking motions. Both phenomena occurring simultaneously, he was utterly fascinated. The sparks themselves seemed alive. The moving metal objects seemed to suggest new motor ef­fects. What was this strange coalition, this synchronicity of phenomena?

Brilliant white coronas came forth with a gaseous “hissing” sound from metal points and edges. Metal plates were soon poised all around the device for observation. Tesla recognized at once that these effects were not identical with those obtained earlier while using high frequency alternating currents. These new discharges were white, energetic, and strong.

The electrical behavior of copper plates, rods, cylinders, and spheres near his primary impulser brought forth a great variety of white fluidic discharges. Strong discharge brushes appeared from the ends of copper plates. These came in prodigious volumes, hissing and arcing wildly in all directions, es­pecially from sharp points. Tesla tried copper discs. These seemed to pro­duce more stable discharges. He observed the curious manner in which these white discharges seemed to “race” around the disc edge at times, blending and separating with all the other sparks. Here was a greatly magnified ex­ample of Reichenbach’s Od force perhaps!

He noted the manner in which white brush discharges appeared from cop­per conductors of different shapes. Each form, poised near his impulser, gave a characteristic corona distribution. This coronal correspondence with specific geometric form greatly impressed him. With certain metal forms the discharges were very fluidic in appearance. Smooth, fluidic sheaths covered copper cylinders of specific size. This absolutely fascinated Tesla. There was an aerodynamic nature inherent in radiant electricity.

Copper cylinders produced remarkable volumes of white discharges. The discharges from certain sized cylinders were actually larger than those being applied. This inferred that an energy transformation effect was taking place within the cylinder. This reminded him of his initial observation with the shock-excited wires. Those which did not explode gave forth far greater volt­ages than were initially used. He had never understood why this was occur­ring. Here was another instance in which applied energy was seemingly mag­nified by a conductor. Why was this happening?

The key to understanding this bizarre phenomenon might be found here, he thought. He observed the discharges from copper cylinders of various diameters. Each became edged with white brush discharges when held near or actually placed within the conductive copper strap of the impulser. The discharge effect was most pronounced when cylinders were placed within the periphery of the copper strap.

Tesla noticed that white corona sheaths were actually covering the outer cylinder wall at times. These would appear, build in strength, and disappear on sudden discharge with a surprising length. The sheathing action was re­petitive when the cylinder had a critically small volume. Very small cylinders behaved like rods, where discharges only appeared at their edges. The stabil­ity of these strange sheath discharges varied with cylinder diameter and length. Tesla noticed that not every cylinder performed well near the impulser. Only cylinders of specific volume produced stable and continuous white elec­trical sheaths. If the cylinders were too small, then the sheaths were intermit­tent and unstable. There was an obvious connection between the supplied impulse train and the cylinder volume. But what was it?

Tesla surveyed the entire range of his recent discoveries. Impulses produced a radiant electrical effect. Radiant electricity was mysteriously flow­ing through space. As it flowed, it focused over metal conductors as a white fluidic corona. When the shape and volume of the metal conductors were just right, the energy appeared as a stable white corona of far greater voltage than the impulse generator supplied. More questions. More discoveries.

Rods produced sparks from their edges, but not as long as copper cylin­ders did. Tesla selected a cylinder, which worked very well, and placed sev­eral horizontal “cuts” all around its surface. He was totally surprised when, on testing, the spark discharge from the cut cylinder was notably larger than before. Increased spark length means increased voltage. But why did this diminished conductivity force the voltage up?

The cuts diminished conductivity in the cylinder by forcing the energy into a tighter “squeeze”. He had noted that electrical impulses displayed a tendency to traverse the outer surface of metal conductors. Certain cylinders were often ensheathed in a fluidic white discharge, which smoothly traveled between coil ends in a tightly constricted layer. Here was something truly notable. His input voltage was far less than that produced from the upper coil terminal. But why from end to end?

The essential reason why current preferred outer surface conduction was precisely because they were impulsing. The sudden shock, which any conductor experienced, produced an expansive effect, where the electrical charge was rejected by the conductive interior. This “skin effect” was a function of impulse time and conductor resistance. Highly resistant objects forced all of the impulse energy to the surface.

Now he was getting somewhere. Frustrated radiant electricity constricted into a tighter surface volume when encountering metal surfaces. This intense surface focusing effect brought the voltage up to tremendous values. Here was a new transformer effect! He believed it was an electrostatic transforma­tion. Impulse currents each possessed an electrostatic nature. The bunching of charge in the impulser brings this electrostatic field to a peak in a small instant of time.

Constricting this field volume produces a greatly magnified voltage. Placement of any conductor in the field space alters the field by constricting its shape. When symmetrical conductors of special shape, volume, and resis­tance are placed in this space, the field is greatly constricted. Because the impulsing electrostatic field is very abrupt, it “snaps” over the conductor from end to end.

Tesla knew that here is where the secret lies. If resistance in the conductor is great enough, the snapping electrostatic force cannot move any charges. It is forced to “grow” over the conductor surface until it discharges at the end point, where greatly magnified voltages are obtained. When the wire diam­eter is small enough, the wire explodes under electrostatic pressures, which exceed those seen in dynamite.

In effect, Tesla had managed to interrupt a high voltage direct current several thousand times per second. In doing so, he had discovered a way to completely separate electrostatic energy from current impulses. Tesla pondered these facts, wondering if it was possible to force the magnification effect beyond the limits of standard electromagnetic transformers. In other words, how high could voltage be raised? Was there a limit to the process?

In order to achieve such enormous voltage levels, he needed a conductive shape, which offered so much resistance to charge movement, that all the applied energy would become electrostatic. In effect, Tesla wanted to convert a quantity of supply power into a pure electrostatic voltage. This phenomenon suggested that his goal was not impossible.

Tesla extended his idea of the cut copper cylinder to coils. From the viewpoint of electrostatic impulses, flat copper coils appear to be “continuously cut” cylinders. The electrostatic field focuses over the coil as it did with the cylinders, from end to end. A simple magnet coil of specific volume would offer so much resistance that it would be difficult to predict the actual result­ant voltage, which results without an empirical test.


Constructing several of these, he was ready for the test. When each copper magnet coil was impulsed, Tesla saw tremendous white brushes leaping from their free ends: discharges approaching one million volts! But his supply power was nowhere near these voltages, and the coil was not wrapped in thousands of windings. These previously unexpected voltage magnifications were the result of an energy transformation, one that took electrical power and converted it completely into pressure. Watts into Volts, an unheard thing. It was the key to a new and explosive technology.

Tesla also found that such coils required very thin coil forms. He ceased using cellulose and cardboard forms, preferring “squirrel cage” type forms made of thin end-braced wooden rods. Wire was wound about these cylindrically disposed rods, producing the very best effects. Spacings were also tried between successive coil windings with excellent results. Spaced windings reduced sparking to a minimum.

Tesla remarked that the electrostatic potentials along the coil surface (from end to end) could be as much as ten thousand volts per inch of winding! A ten-inch coil of proper volume could produce one hundred thousand volt dis­charges. In addition, and in confirmation of his suspicions, no current was ever measured at the free terminals of these coils. A “zero coil current” con­dition! It was simply another paradox, which would occupy the academicians for several more argumentative decades. Tesla suddenly realized that coils represented a truly special and valuable component in his quest. The instantaneous resistance which any coil offered to an applied impulse was so immense that current could not flow through the wire length. As a phenomenal consequence, no current flowed through the coil windings at all! But sparking was observed, traveling from coil end to end. Here was yet another anomaly!

He began placing these “secondary” coils within his “primary” impulser circuit. The strap, which connected his magnetic arc to the capacitors, formed the “primary”. He made necessary distinctions among his Transformer com­ponents. Few engineers actually appreciate these distinctions. The “primary” and “secondary” of Tesla Transformers are not magnetic inductors. They are resistive capacitors. Coil-shaped capacitors! Tesla Transformer action is elec­trostatic induction.

There were conditions for the most efficient manifestation of the effect. Maxwell could not predict these values. Tesla empirically discovered most of the rules for impulse behavior. He found that the transformative abilities of these smooth copper coils were maximum when the coil mass equaled the mass of the impulser’s conductive copper strap. It did not matter how thin the coil windings were. The equality of copper masses brought maximum trans­formative effects. When this equal mass condition was fulfilled, Tesla said that the coil-capacitors were “in resonance”. Electrostatic resonance.

Tesla found it possible to produce millions of electrostatic volts by this method. His first Transformers were horizontal in orientation, both free ends of the secondary coil-capacitor producing unidirectional impulses of great power. White discharges from each of these free ends had very different char­acteristics, indicating the unidirectional flow. Electropositive terminals al­ways appeared brush-like and broad. Electronegative terminals always ap­peared constricted and dart-like.

His next Transformer series employed vertical cylinders with the base connected directly to ground. Free terminals stood quite a distance above the primary capacitor strap, spouting a brilliant white crown. These marked a turning point in his theories concerning electricity, since it was possible for him to develop well over one million volts impulse power in a device scarcely taller than a child.

These discharges were of an intense white coloration. White-fire. Very sudden impulses color discharge channels with the brilliant white-fire because Tesla Transformers separate the effusive Aether from electrons. Tesla Trans­former conduct Aether, not electrons. The white-fire brilliance is the distinc­tive Aetheric trademark of Tesla Transformers.

During this time, Tesla discovered the peculiar necessity for streamlining his Transformers. Cylindrical secondary capacitors suddenly became coni­cal forms. These presented the most bizarre appearance of all. Tesla used cone-shaped secondaries to focus the impulses. White-fire discharges from these forms evidenced real focusing effects, the discharges themselves as­suming inverted conical shapes. Their greatly intensified nature is seen in photographs, which were taken under his own intrigued supervision. The magnified voltages were reaching those thresholds in which his laboratory enclosures were far too small to continue making industrial scale progress on radi­ant energy systems.

The fact that white-fire discharges pass through all matter, notably insula­tors, revealed the Aetheric nature. Tesla saw that white-fire discharges could permeate all materials in a strangely gaseous manner. This penetration scarcely heated matter. In fact, the white-fire brushes often had a cooling effect. The sparks themselves, though violent in appearance, were “soft” when com­pared to all other forms of electricity. He had successfully removed the haz­ard from electricity. In blocking the slow and dense charges, he had freed the mysterious effusive Aether streams inherent in electricity. Because of this, new and intensified radiant effects were constantly making their appearance across his laboratory space.

Tesla found that as these new “Impulse Transformers” greatly magnified power supplied to them, so also their radiant electric effects were equally magnified. He found it possible to wirelessly project electrostatic power to very great distances, lighting special lamps to full candlepower at hundreds of feet. In these experiments, he also conceived of signaling systems. It would be possible to switch radiant effects in telegraphic fashion. Distant vacuum tube receivers would then light or dim in corresponding manner. Tesla ex­perimented with a special breed of telegraphic wireless in 1890.

He also found it possible to wirelessly operate specially constructed motors by properly intercepting this space-flowing energy stream. He had made his own Polyphase system obsolete! The new vision was vastly more enthral­ling. The world would be transformed. He discovered ways to beam the energy out to any focus, even to the zenith. His plan to illuminate the night sky with a radiant energy beacon captured the minds of all who listened.

Tesla now possessed the means by which the radiant electricity could be greatly magnified and transmitted. He could now transform the very nature of the radiance so that it could carry increasingly greater power. Now he could begin developing a new technology, which would completely revitalize the world order. Power could be broadcast to any location without wire connections. Radiant electricity could be utilized in completely new appliances. A new world was about to be released!


Understanding the analogue between these electrical impulse effects and the behavior of high-pressure gases was of paramount importance. This gas­eous aspect of impulse electrical radiance was perhaps the most mystifying aspect of these newfound energies. Those who sought out Tesla’s every lecture were very aware that a new electrical species had been discovered.

While yet a student, Tesla had became aware of certain scientific imperatives enunciated by Johann von Goethe. One of these was the preservation and extension of all activities-natural. Goethe implied that when natural con­ditions were preserved during experimentation, then nature itself was in the best configuration to reveal more unified phenomenal exhibitions to qualita­tive observers.

Tesla recognized that his new discovery of impulse, the result of an accident, was a total departure from Polyphase alternating current. While his original vision of the vortex was applied by him to the designing of motors and generators, Tesla now realized that this was not its primary message. In fact, taken from the viewpoint, which Goethe expressed, Polyphase was a most unnatural form of energy.

Natural activity is suffused with impulses, not alternations. Natural activ­ity is initiated as a primary impulse. Nature is flooded with impulses of all kinds. From lightning to nervous activities, all natural energy movements occur as impulses. Impulses were now seen by Tesla to fill the natural world. But, more fundamentally, Tesla saw that impulses flood the metaphysical world.

The mysterious flow of meanings during conversation occurs as a sequence of directed impulses in space. Though inert air vibrates in alternations with sounds uttered, the flow of meaning remains unidirectional. Intentions are also impulses. The unidirectional flow of intentions appear as impulses. Mo­tivations proceed from the manifestation of sudden desires. Overtly expressed as actions, the initiating impulses are then fulfilled.

Tesla wished to comprehend where this “motivating force” came from, and where it went during the expressed actions. In all of this, he was very much the wonderful stereotype of the Victorian natural philosopher. His sci­entific pursuits followed these considerations until the last. Those who study his announcements recognize his metaphysical foundations, the basis of all his subsequent scientific quests.

Tesla observed the amazing “coordination” of new phenomena which daily seemed to bring new technological potentials before him. This wonderful synchronicity, this vortex, revealed his new and fortunate position in nature. Having somehow “broken” his fixation with the unnatural … with Polyphase … he reentered the natural once again. Impulses. Could it be that the induction of electrical impulses summoned the other impulse character­istics of nature? Was he producing a metaphysical vortex, into which all the impulse phenomena of nature would now flow? Was this the real sunset mes­sage, which seized him in Budapest, so many years ago? Was electricity the fundamental natural energy … the motivator?

Victorian Science was not exactly sure what electricity was, there being so very many attributes associated with the term. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century natural philosophers conjectured on the nature of both electric and magnetic forces. Gilbert and Descartes shared the belief that these forces were a special kind of “flowing charge”, a space radiant stream which took place in tightly constricted lines. Some equated the electromagnetic forces with a “dark light”, which Karl von Reichenbach later proved in part.

Faraday adopted and modified the view that electromagnetic forces acted through space because they were a special flow of charge. This effusive charge movement changed when traveling through conductors, becoming more den­sified and retarded in velocity. Faraday’s “lines of force” were not conceived by him to be mere static tensions as modernists view them. Faraday envi­sioned these force lines as radiant, streaming lines. They were mobile, mov­ing longitudinally into space.

Others would change the names, referring to electric force lines as “diaelectric” or dielectric flux, but the view remained essentially as conceived by Faraday. Young James Clerk Maxwell also believed that force lines were dynamic, longitudinal lines of flow. But flow-lines of what substance? Here lay the principle problem, which occupied physicists throughout the Victo­rian Era.

Victorian researchers and natural philosophers wished to discover the ex­act nature of the “flowing charge” of which force lines were composed. Most agreed that the mysterious flowing “substance” had to be an effusive, ultra-­gaseous flux. This flux was composed of infinitesimal energy particles, which affected the various pressures and inductions, observed.

Henry and Faraday struggled with the idea of deriving usable electric power from static charges. The notions was that, since force-lines were made of a “flowing charge substance”, then fixed contacts placed on charged masses would supply electrical power forever. No one was able, however, to derive this flowing charge. Lossy discharges preceded every contact. Most research­ers, whose attempts with highly charged Leyden Jars failed, sought a more benign source of concentrated charge. The quest shifted to magnets, but the attempt remained as futile as ever. There remained no available way to derive power from the individual flowing charges of a force-line.

J.J. Thomson discovered electrons in vacuum discharges; assuming that these “electric particles” operated in all instances where electrical activity was observed. Victorian researchers did not accept this view completely. Thomson’s “electrons” were viewed as the result of violent collisions across a vacuum acceleration space. It was not possible to ascertain whether these same “Thomson currents” were active within electrical conductors operating at small voltages.

Very reputable experimenters besides Tesla continued claiming that “space flowing electricity” is the real electricity. Tesla’s classic demonstrations proved that rapid electrical impulses actually exceed the ability of fixed charges to transmit the applied forces. Charges lag where electrostatic forces continue propagating. One is compelled to see that electrostatic forces precede the movement of charges.

Tesla saw that electrostatic impulses could flow without line charges. His “zero current coils” operated simply because the charges themselves were immobilized. Electricity was shown to be more in the nature of a flowing force rather than a stream of massive particles. But what then was this “flow­ing current”?

In Tesla’s view, radiant electricity is a space flowing current, which is NOT made of electrons. Later Victorians believed that there was a substance, which both filled all space and permeated all matter. Several serious researchers claimed to have identified this gas. Notables, such as Mendeleev predicted the existence of several ultra-rare gases, which preceded hydrogen. These, he claimed, were inert gases. This is why they were rarely detected. The inert gases, which Mendeleev predicted, formed an atmosphere, which flooded all of space. These gaseous mixtures composed the Aether.

Tesla and others believed that both electrical and magnetic forces were actually streams of Aether gas, which had been fixated in matter. Materials were somehow “polarized” by various “frictive” treatments by which an Aether gas flow was induced in them. Most materials could maintain the flow in­definitely, since no work was required on their part. Matter had only to re­main polarized, transducing the Aether flow. The Aether gas contained all the power. Unlimited power.

This Aether gas power manifested as the electromagnetic forces themselves, adequate reason to pursue the development of an Aether gas engine. Such an engine could run forever on the eternal kinetic energies of the Aether itself, it being both generated and driven by the stars.

Tesla believed that radiant electricity is composed of Aether gas. He based this belief on the fact that his zero current coils were not conducting the “slow and dense” charges usually observed in ordinary electrical circuits. Abrupt impulses produced distinctive and different effects … fluidic effects. The qualities ascribed by Tesla to “electricity” or things “electrical” in his numerous patent texts and press interviews are those, which refer to the Aether gas. Tesla did not refer to electron currents as “electricity”. He did not equate “electricity” with electron flow. Whenever Tesla spoke of “electrical” effects he always described their effusive, gaseous quality.

Tesla referred to space as the “ambient or natural medium”. Space, he claimed, was that which “conducts electricity”. He had found a means by which this gaseous electrical flow could be greatly concentrated, magnified, and directed. He saw that this radiant electricity was, in reality, a gaseous emanation. An Aetheric emanation. This is why he made constant reference to fluidic terminology throughout his lectures.

Resistance, volume, capacity, reservoir, surface area, tension, pressure, pressure release: these were the terms upon which Tesla relied throughout his presentations. The terminology of hydraulics. Tesla also recognized that because Aether was a gas, it had aerodynamic requirements.

Aether, in Tesla’s lexicon, was space flowing electricity: a gas of superla­tive and transcendent qualities. Aether was the electricity, which filled all of space, a vast reservoir of unsurpassable power. Motive, dynamic, and free for the taking. Aether gas technology would revolutionize the world. Aether gas engines would provide an eternal power source for the world. Science, industry, corporations, financial alignments, social orders, nations … everything would change. …

A course from classical teachin on Electrical Discharges

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