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Nikola Tesla

The Shoreham Tesla Science Center’s celebration of famed scientist Nikola Tesla’s 163rd birthday was an indicator of how much perspective matters.

While participants watched demonstrations Saturday afternoon and evening of a number of Tesla-built devices from Tesla coils to the induction motor, behind them the world’s largest Tesla coil, a 40-foot monster of a device, loomed. The coil, designed by electrical engineer Greg Leyh, made its grand debut on Long Island, brought all the way from California by road.

“It’s basically a hobby that’s gotten away from me,” Leyh said. 

The design is actually a one-third scale model of the electrical engineer’s intent to build a 120-foot Tesla coil — two actually. And if set up side by side he said it can test to see how lightning is created in the atmosphere.  

“Being an empiricist, I thought the best way to get to the heart of the problem is to recreate the point inside the lightning storm where the lightning starts,” Leyh said.

As large as the coil was, Leyh admitted it was only a fraction of the size of Tesla’s original tower, which once sat in the middle of the center’s property, behind the current statue of Nikola Tesla. That tower rose 187 feet in the air and was part of the famed inventor’s idea of wireless transmission of power across a wide expanse.

The Tesla Science Center now enters its seventh year since originally purchasing the property, with plans continuing to turn the site into a museum about Tesla and science, as well as a science-based business incubator. 

Marc Alessi, the center’s executive director, said they are still looking to raise many millions of dollars more for the project. Current renovations to the main laboratory, used by Tesla back in the early 1900s, include the rooftop chimney and cupola surrounding it.

The next stage for the location is finalizing site plans, which could take several months, on the visitors center, to be located in the white house in the front of the property, and demolition of other nonhistorical buildings at the location.  

“I’m really excited things are starting to pick up pace,” Alessi said.

Nikola Tesla, depicted in statue at top, was a Serbian-American inventor who had a lab built in Shoreham, where the statue sits. Photo by Kyle Barr

Centuries of scientific experimentation and exploration will be preserved in Shoreham.

Concluding months of nail-biting anticipation, the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham, made famous as the last standing laboratory of famous 19th- and 20th-century scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, finally made it onto the U.S. National Register of Historic Places July 27.

The designation is the culmination of hard work by the nonprofit Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe to get the site listed on local, state and national lists of historic places.

Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, said the site landing on these historic registers helps to guarantee that the property will survive through future generations.

“Listing on the National Historic Register not only helps preserve Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory, but it allows us to move forward with renovations and plans to develop Wardenclyffe into a world class science and innovation center,” Alessi said. “[The] listing also opens doors for funding, as many grants require official historic status.”

Members of Tesla Science Center spent close to a year gathering data on the historic nature of the site located along Route 25A in Shoreham. They hired a historic architecture consultant to document which parts of the 16-acre property were historical and which were not.

The property was considered for historical site status by the New York State Historic Preservation Office June 7 after receiving 9,500 letters of support from people all over the world. The property passed that decision with a unanimous vote of approval, and it was then sent to the National Park Service for a decision to place the property on the national register.

“We hope that this will remind people of the importance of Tesla and his work at Wardenclyffe,” Tesla center President Jane Alcorn said.

The Shoreham property was home of one of Tesla’s last and most ambitious projects of his career. His plan was to build a tower that could, in theory, project electricity through the ground as a way of offering free energy to everyone in the area. Creditors seized upon his property after it was learned there would be limited ways of monetizing the project.

Tesla spent his remaining years for the most part in solitude and obscurity until his death in 1943. Recent decades have shown a resurgence of interest in Tesla for his groundbreaking technologies such as the Tesla Coil, a 19th-century invention used to produce high-voltage alternating-current electricity, and Alternating Current which is used in most electronics today.

In 2012 the science center worked with The Oatmeal comic website to launch a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $1.37 million to purchase the land. Since then the nonprofit has renovated the property with plans to turn the site into a museum and incubator for technology-based business startups.

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The air buzzed with electricity in Shoreham Saturday as community members and Tesla aficionados attended the second annual Tesla Birthday Expo: Neon 2018 at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham.

The July 14 event was held on the famous 19th- and 20th-century scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla’s 162nd birthday. Both adults and kids stood in wonder as they interacted and played with some of Tesla’s most notorious inventions, like the Tesla coil, a 19th-century invention used to produce high-voltage alternating-current electricity. Participants also got to interact with electric Tesla vehicles, robots from local robotics teams and learn the history of the location itself.

The Wardenclyffe site was home to one of Tesla’s last experiments, a tower that would have transferred free electricity wirelessly through the earth itself.

“Tesla had enormous dreams,” Tesla center President Jane Alcorn said. “We’re standing here where Tesla’s ambitious project to impact the world with the wireless transmission of messages was embodied by the tower that once
stood here.”

The center bought the property in 2002 after a successful online crowdfunding campaign. The nonprofit group is now looking to turn the site into a museum, science exhibition center and incubator for science-based projects. The science center hopes to have the first part of a functioning museum up and running by the end of next year, as currently the buildings on the site are not open to the public.

This post was updated July 17 to correct the name of the event to the Tesla Birthday Expo: Neon 2018.

Nikola Tesla, depicted in statue at top, was a Serbian-American inventor who had a lab built in Shoreham, where the statue sits. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Shoreham’s Wardenclyffe property, the site of famed Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla’s last living laboratory, is up for consideration for historical site status by the New York State Historic Preservation Office June 7.

“We want to make the world aware, more than it is now, of the site’s importance,” said Jane Alcorn, president of the board of directors of Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe. “It gives the community and our investors some assurance that we’re moving in the right direction, that were not just gaining local recognition, but state and national as well.”

Inventor Nikola Tesla’s Shoreham laboratory, built in 1901, is his las lab still standing. TBR News Media

In 2012 the science center worked with The Oatmeal comic website to launch a successful Indiegogo campaign that raised $1.37 million to purchase the land. Since then the nonprofit has renovated the property with plans to turn the site into a museum and incubator for technology-based business startups.

Alcorn said the board hired a historic architect consultant who documented the land and its legacy. The group worked for months crafting a 92-page document describing Tesla’s life along with the many minute details of the 16-acre property, such as which buildings are historic and which are not, when each was built, and by what person and company.

Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, said that having the property on the historic register would help to indefinitely safeguard the land.

“It’s preserving it for future generations,” Alessi said. “When you get something registered as a historic landmark, we’ll be able to rest easy knowing 500 years from now if society completely changes, there is a very good chance the lab will still be there.”

“When you get something registered as a historic landmark, we’ll be able to rest easy knowing 500 years from now if society completely changes, there is a very good chance the lab will still be there.”

— Marc Alessi

Alcorn said getting historical status would not only increase the project’s notoriety, but would also allow the group to apply for state grants they wouldn’t be eligible for without the historic status.

“It’s often one of the requirements of many state grants — that you are located on the historic register,” Alcorn said. “We’ve been eliminated from granting opportunities in the past due to that lack.”

Many modern-day entrepreneurs and scientists have a vested interest in the lab’s history. Tesla, a self-starter and entrepreneur, created many technological innovations still used today, such as alternating current and electromagnetism technology. His research influenced modern day X-rays.

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose, but in 1903 creditors confiscated his equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today.

The science center submitted the final historic register application nearly a month ago, and next week it will be reviewed by the state’s national register review board. The review process takes several weeks, and if
accepted, the property will be put on the state register of historic places. The application will then automatically go to the National Register of Historic Places review board for the potential of being put on the national registry. That process will take several months.

A sign outside of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe shows it was designed by architect Stanford White, as inscribed. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Not everything submitted to the national registry gets listed, but New York has a very good track record, so hopefully we’ll be hearing a good thing from this one,” said Jennifer Betsworth, a historic preservation
specialist for the state preservation department.

Only a day after the center announced its application, it had more than 6,700 people sign letters in support of the application, according to Alessi, and were sent to the state historic preservation review board.

Betsworth said despite how the property has been modified through the years, it has value as Tesla’s last intact laboratory and has historical significance as the site of some of his last and most ambitious inventions.

“It’s a bit complicated because it’s a building that’s absolutely covered with later additions that aren’t historic, so its value is not necessarily immediately obvious,” said Betsworth. “If this wasn’t the last remaining laboratory related to Tesla, it might not have been eligible. The incredible rarity and significance of this
resource is what it has going for it.”

The science center is currently working to fundraise for the first phase of a project that would turn two buildings on the grounds into exhibition spaces for science education. The fundraising has reached $6 million out of the planned $20 million, according to Alessi. The science center hopes to have the first part of a functioning museum up and running by the end of next year.

Crews looking for Nikola Tesla’s famed "death ray" come up empty

Crews working with Discovery Channel dig under the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham in search of underground tunnels. Photo from Discovery Channel

After detecting something under the surface of the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham using ground-penetrating radar, a duo of explorers asked permission to dig a 16-foot-deep hole on the property.

It was October 2017 and segments of a new Discovery Channel program “Tesla’s Death Ray: A Murder Declassified” were being filmed at the fire station, located just five minutes away from Wardenclyffe —
Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

With the go-ahead granted by Rocky Point Fire District Secretary Edwin Brooks, and then the rest of the district’s board, an excavation crew dug out the hole in hopes of finding the remnants of tunnels Tesla was rumored to have built under the grounds of his laboratory that connected to surrounding areas in the early 1900s.

Filming and research was also conducted on the property of the Tesla Science Center
at Wardenclyffe, but digging there was prohibited due to contamination on the site from previous tenants.

Hosts Rob Nelson and Stefan Burns of Science Channel’s Secrets of the Underground look over some findings. Photo from Science Channel

“We were definitely interested in what’s going on, and if there were some tunnels here, we’d like to know about it,” said Brooks, who was also interviewed for the show.

The multi-episode docuseries, which premiered Jan. 2 with new episodes every Tuesday,  follows military investigator Jack Murphy and Tesla historian Cameron Prince on their quest to decode some of the mysteries and urban myths surrounding the Serbian-American inventor. The two aim to track down Tesla’s innovations and research that may have gone missing from his safe after he died in a hotel room in 1943 — including a supposed formula for a particle beam, or “death ray.” Murphy and Prince theorize that designing the fatal weapon could have caused someone to murder Tesla.

“I think that’s really far-fetched, and I don’t believe that’s the case — it’s all very speculative,” said Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, who, along with other board members, allowed the crew to shoot on their premises last September. “But it’s been an interesting experience.”

Alcorn said the site receives many requests a year from film and television companies, as well as documentarians from all over. In addition to Discovery Channel’s show, the Science Channel also recently shot and aired a two-part episode for its “Secrets of the Underground” show with the subtitle “Tesla’s
Final Secrets,” which similarly tested the ground beneath the laboratory in search of clues for the death ray invention.

Before filming began, Alcorn said both companies had to fill out an application, which the Tesla Science Center board reviewed to ensure its shows met their requirements for science-based content. As the programs featured testing on the grounds using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, they were allowed to proceed.

“We can’t control what they do with their footage or what they find, but since they’re using this equipment, if they were to find anything, it was important that it is based on science and data,” Alcorn said. “Both shows were very cooperative and we had no problem with them. We had them on-site for a couple days — they would come in the morning, do their filming and testing, and then they would leave. They were also all excellent in terms of hiring good companies, with bonafide technicians that look for voids in the ground as a means to discover whether or not there’s something underground — not just for film projects but mining companies, too.”

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

As for Alcorn’s verdict of the shows themselves: Neither program led to any concrete discoveries, she noted, and both had the air of reality shows with repetitive material and cliffhangers before commercial breaks, which  she “wasn’t crazy about.” But she said she and other board members are grateful that expensive testing was conducted and paid for by an outside company as they themselves had long been curious about what, if anything, was under the site’s surface. Now there’s a body of data that the board can examine if it wishes, she said.

“It was an opportunity for us to save some money and get some information,” Alcorn said.

Response to the shows has been mixed among residents. Some were happy to see Shoreham and its famous scientist represented, while others dismissed the shows as sensationalized and inaccurate.

“It’s great for people to learn who [Tesla] is and bring some knowledge of Wardenclyffe to the public so we can have it turned into a proper museum and erase some of the eyesore that is there,” Wading River resident Erich Kielburger said in a closed Shoreham-Wading River community group page on Facebook.

Amanda Celikors said her 7-year-old son watched the Discovery Channel show and was fascinated by it.

“He’s learned so much about Tesla and his impact on science,” she said. “We joked that the tunnels could lead to our house. I think it’s great.”

But Rob Firriolo was less than impressed.

“Typical reality TV trash,” he wrote on the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Facebook page. “Contrived and melodramatic, with annoying camera work and even more annoying music trying to gin up tension where there obviously is none. … We will get hours of fluff, hype and speculation with a payoff at the end as rewarding as Geraldo [Rivera] in Al Capone’s vault.”

Shoreham resident Nick Renna said in an interview he watched the Science Channel program, and enjoyed it as it shed some light on the historical value of the Wardenclyffe property.

“I thought it was really cool to see our own neighborhood on television,” Renna said. “Exposure is huge for that property. When most people hear Tesla, they think about the car, but in reality, without him, there would be no electricity, remote controls, radio waves — the guy was a historymaker. And that property is an incredible asset that we’re able to call home, to some degree.”

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Some residents see it as a magical place full of rich history and memories that deserves preservation, others consider it a tax burden that should be sold and disposed of. The future of Briarcliff Elementary School, a shuttered, early-20th century building on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, is currently up in the air as the school district looks to community members to weigh in on potential options.

A dozen voices were heard Jan. 9 during a public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education to decide the fate of the beloved historic school, which has sat vacant for the last three years. The nearly 27,000-square-foot manor was built in 1907, expanded on through 2007 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, pleads his case to the board as to why it should preserve the school building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators made it clear during the meeting that the board has no plans for the property at this time and, due to declining enrollment throughout the district, does not foresee it will be used for instructional use anytime soon — be it a pre-K or BOCES program. Board members said it will determine the best course of action for the building based on input from the community in the coming months.

“The board will not be making any decisions tonight on the future of the Briarcliff elementary school building, we’re only listening to residential statements,” said board president Robert Rose. “We recognize the importance of input from the entire community.”

This year, the annual operating costs for the property are estimated to total $95,000, which are expensed through the district’s general fund and includes building and equipment maintenance; insurance; and utilities, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finances and operations.

A presentation of the pricey upkeep didn’t dissuade several residents from speaking passionately about the school’s place in the history of Shoreham, pleading with the board to neither sell nor redevelop it for condominiums, as one speaker suggested.

“It was such a wonderful place — the children loved the building,” said Bob Korchma, who taught at Briarcliff for a number of years. “To lose such a great part of our community for housing and any other endeavors would be crazy. It has such history and working there was one of the best parts of my life.”

Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher at the school for 10 years, echoed the sentiments, calling the building “special,” and encouraged the board to move the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is currently attached to the high school to Briarcliff.

“If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

—Colette Grosso

“The majority of my teaching career in the district was at the high school, and when they put the public library there, I believe it created several security problems where the general public was on school grounds during the school day,” Lutjen said, suggesting that the freed up space at the high school could be used for classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a fitness center and testing rooms.

Residents also pushed the idea to designate the building a historic landmark and pursue grants, potentially from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), to restore it. David Kuck, whose son went to Briarcliff, said on top of making it a historic site, the district should turn it into a STEM center for students across Suffolk County, as it stands in the shadow of inventor Nikola Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, outlined the building’s history for the board — three generations of the prominent Upham family, including a veteran of the Civil War, built and owned the school in three different phases — and urged that covenants be filed on the property that says the building could never be taken down.

“The exterior must be kept in its historic state,” Madigan said. “It’s a very valuable and historical asset for our village. And it’s the most important thing to preserve as a resident.”

Joan Jacobs, a Shoreham resident for 40 years and former teacher, explained to the board how the building was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road.

Joan Jacobs gets emotional talking about her connection and history with Shoreham’s Briarcliff Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s so rich and having taught there for 14 years, having a daughter go through there, there’s an awful lot there,” an emotional Jacobs said. “It’s a shame to throw away our history.”

Both Bob Sweet and Barbara Cohen, members of Shoreham Village, advocated that the school be redeveloped as a residence for seniors in the area.

“I care about this building and sorely miss when the school buses coming up the road to drop the grade schoolers off,” Sweet said. “I admonish you don’t sell the property and explore the notion of turning this into condos for retired village members.”

But Colette Grosso, a special education aide at Miller Avenue School, said she hopes the community works toward a solution where the building remains an asset within the district for educational purposes as opposed to housing.

“All-day daycare and aftercare services could be done there, and there are other organizations besides BOCES that would love to use the facility to serve special education, which is an underserved population,” Grosso said. “If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

Further discussions with community members on Briarcliff will occur at the next board of education meeting Feb. 13 in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m.

The donation made by Eugene Sayan will help with plans to renovate the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Image from Marc Alessi

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe aims to be a major hub of exploration and innovation on Long Island, not only preserving Nikola Tesla’s legacy but actively helping to inspire the inventors of tomorrow. It is now another step closer to that thanks to the generosity of a local entrepreneur greatly inspired by the Serbian-American scientist.

During a celebration of the nonprofit’s long-term vision for its Shoreham site last month at the The Ward Melville Heritage Organization Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook, it was announced that
Eugene Sayan — the founder and CEO of Stony Brook-based health care efficiency company Softheon Inc., will donate $1 million in support of the future museum, business incubator for scientific research and student-geared education facility.

Eugene Sayan, CEO of Stony Brook-based Softheon Inc. made a $1 million donation to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo from LinkedIn

With the donation, the center currently has $5 million of a $20 million capital campaign goal set up in March of this year. The funding will allow the center to begin phase one of its construction projects on the grounds of Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. The starting plan is to turn two abandoned buildings on the property into visitor and exhibition spaces for science education programs by next year, and renovate the historic, Stanford White-designed laboratory. Maintenance of the buildings and staff is also part of the overall budget.

“It’s truly amazing,” said Marc Alessi, the science center’s executive director, a driving force behind the center’s plans. “There’s certainly worldwide interest in this place, but Eugene’s donation is validation that there’s also an interest from local innovators in making sure this gets launched.”

Sayan, an Eastern European immigrant himself whose innovative company “strives to create simple solutions to complex problems,” has, unsurprisingly, always felt a strong connection to Tesla and looked to him as a source of inspiration while building his business. When he was made aware of Wardenclyffe during a meeting with the center’s national chair of fundraising Joe Campolo and learned of the plan to build something more than just a museum in Tesla’s name, he quickly involved himself in the effort. In the wake of Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s $1 million donation to the center in 2014, Sayan wanted to be the first entrepreneur in the local area to make a significant contribution, while inspiring others to follow his lead.

“It’s an honor to support the Tesla Science Center and its celebration of the important work of Nikola Tesla,”
Sayan said in a statement. “His work and innovation have made an impact on my life, and I’m very happy that Softheon is supporting such an important initiative on Long Island.”

“Having a capability as a science center helps with sustainability. People will keep coming back for family memberships, our new exhibits, to send their kids to robotics and coding classes.”

— Marc Alessi

Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn said Sayan’s benefaction, and others like it, will serve to successfully energize the legacy and impact of the inventor of alternating current electricity.

“Mr. Sayan is giving us support when we need it most,” Alcorn said. “We hope others will see the good that this can bring and consider giving a gift of this nature as well. Not everybody has the capacity to do something like this but when people who do have that ability act in a forward-thinking way like this, it benefits all of us. This contribution will make a real difference.”

The center’s board members estimate the entirety of their planned facility will be available to the public by 2022. Upon completion of the project, they said, not only will it include a museum and an immersive science center — including a STEM education program for students, TED Talk-style lectures and workshops for emerging scientists and entrepreneurs and traveling exhibits — it will house a Makerspace program offering lab rooms and classes in areas ranging from 3-D printing to synthetic fabrication and robotics. Incubator programs will also be set up to connect startup businesses from around the world to the site. If a company meets the center’s criteria, with Tesla-oriented focuses like electrical or mechanical engineering, its owners can apply for crowdsourcing and mentorships.

Plans are also in place to work with the Department of Education to implement Tesla into the K-12 science
curriculums of surrounding school districts.

Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi at the current Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

Alessi added that because the closest major regional science center, the Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, is a hike for North Shore residents, he hopes the science center will provide a similar experience for them.

“Having a capability as a science center helps with sustainability,” he said. “People will keep coming back for family memberships, our new exhibits, to send their kids to robotics and coding classes. We eventually want to be the go-to source.”

He said it’s important the center become a place that would make its namesake proud.

“If Nikola Tesla walked onto this site after it’s opened and all we had was a museum dedicated to what he was doing 100 years ago, he would be ticked off,” Alessi said. “Just having a static museum here isn’t enough. On-site innovation really honors what Tesla was doing. [Tesla] was a futurist, he saw where things would go, and that’s what can inspire the Teslas of today and tomorrow. If you bring an 8-year-old child here who gets hands-on science experience, we’re going to inspire a future scientist. We want to help people see the value of science.”

Hundreds of residents gather at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center to learn about Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

More than 100 years after his great-grandfather designed and oversaw the construction of Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe laboratory in Shoreham, Sebastian White, a renowned physicist and St. James native, filled a local lecture hall to discuss all things surrounding the Serbian-American inventor.

White, whose famous ancestor Stanford White’s architectural achievements include Washington Square Arch, the original Madison Square Garden and what is now the Tesla Science Center, took time out of his busy schedule as a particle physicist for CERN — the European Organization for Nuclear Research — to engage a roomful of science lovers Aug. 27.

The presentation was in conjunction with the center’s summer-long Tesla exhibit in Stony Brook and ended with a screening of clips from “Tower to the People,” a documentary made by a local filmmaker about the laboratory.

The physicist, and chairman of the Tesla Science Center’s Science Advisory Board, examined the litany of Tesla influences in modern-day technology and the late-19th century culture that helped shape his genius.

Dr. Sebastian White, the great-grandson of Nikola Tesla’s architect Stanford White, discuss the importance of inventor Nikola Tesla and his work. Photo by Kevin Redding

“Today it’s very clear that Tesla is trending in much of the science that’s showing up, such as wireless transmission of energy, which is a new field, and the Tesla car, but I think we shouldn’t only remember him for what he did, but also the incredible time in America he became part of,” White told the 130 residents packed into the lecture hall on the top floor at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center. “I think the story of Tesla, who many of my colleagues don’t even know, is an important one as it tells us how we got to where we are.”

White explained how Tesla’s grand vision for wireless transmission of energy, which eventually culminated in a torn-down tower on the Shoreham site in 1917, remains a much-pursued concept.

“There’s a very lively industry happening today, mostly because people keep forgetting to charge their iPhones and they want to find a way to do it without needing cords,” he said.

Through a process called energy harvesting, industry scientists are actively working on ways to charge cellphones while they sit inside pockets by capturing energy just from the environment.

“It’s an enormous field now — new companies are very interested in it and a lot is happening,” White said, pointing out other examples of wireless power transmissions over the years. “In 1964, on the Walter Cronkite TV show, a guy named William C. Brown demonstrated a model of an electric helicopter powered by a microwave. The United States, Canada and Japan have experimented with airplanes powered by radio waves. I would say, probably, if Tesla were around today, he’d be more happy about all the things people are inventing with new techniques rather than always quoting him and saying, ‘Well, Tesla said this.’”

White said Tesla’s emergence as one of the most influential scientific minds of all time coincided with what he referred to as “an incredibly important time” in the late 1800s, a period referred to as the American Renaissance.

Among the prolific figures with whom Tesla interacted were writer Mark Twain, physicist Ernest Rutherford, American businessman John Jacob Astor IV, and, of course, Stanford White. The physicist said a huge year for Tesla was 1892, when he lectured and demonstrated his experiments at the Institution for Electrical Engineers at the Royal Institution in London.

Residents eagerly listen and learn about the life of invetntor Nikola Tesla during a lecture. Photo by Kevin Redding

Speaking on his great-grandfather and Tesla’s friendship, which proved itself through many projects prior to Wardenclyffe, White referred to one particular exchange.

“Stanford White [once] invited Tesla to join him for an outing with William Astor Chanler, an explorer,” he recounted. “Tesla said, ‘I’m busy in the lab.’ White kept pushing him and then wrote to him, ‘I’m so delighted that you decided to tear yourself away from your laboratory. I would sooner have you on board than the Emperor of Germany or the Queen of England.’”

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member, said after the lecture that having White’s perspective on this near-and-dear subject was integral.

“It’s important having Dr. White give the talk, who’s a physicist himself and whose grandfather was Stanford White, who was intimately involved in Tesla’s advancement of his many ideas both as an investor and also as an architect,” Madigan said. “It’s a good triangulation of today’s event, the Tesla exhibit, and Dr. White bringing in the scientific and family history.”

White said he has always felt a strong connection with his great-grandfather, who had a home in Smithtown, since he was  young.

“He was part of our life for sure,” he said. “We all felt very close to him. My son is an architect, my aunt and uncle were architects, my grandfather was an architect, and even continued in the same firm.”

East Setauket resident Michael Lubinsky said he was drawn to the lecture through a lifelong interest in Tesla.

“I always felt that Tesla was not appreciated that much in his time,” Lubinsky said, laughing that much of the lecture went over his head with its scientific terms.

Paul Scala, a software engineer living in Centereach, said he too gravitated to the event to explore more of Tesla’s story.

“I think [Dr. White] did a very nice job,” he said. “It’s very cool seeing that in the tech world they’re still trying to harness wireless energy.”

Electric Dream Expo at Tesla Science Center in Shoreham brings hundreds

It’s no shock that the legacy of Nikola Tesla, the man responsible for alternating current electricity, resonates so profoundly in Shoreham, given it’s where the Serbian-American inventor’s last remaining laboratory sits.

So in honor of his 161st birthday, more than 600 residents of all ages and from all over the map journeyed to the historic Shoreham site, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, for a supercharged celebration of the prolific pioneer.

Under sunny skies Saturday, July 8, the center kicked off its Electric Dream Expo, an all-afternoon event for all things Tesla-inspired.

From interactive exhibits of 3-D printers, high school robotics and old ham radios to demonstrations of the Tesla coil and Tesla-oriented augmented reality, to science-based activities for kids, the event carried a theme of technological innovation of the past, present and future.

“We’re just so thrilled to see so many people are interested and incredibly humbled knowing what Tesla represents to people.”

— Jane Alcorn

Vibrant Tesla cars were also on display throughout the grounds with raffles for 24-hour test drives available to the public. A Tesla impersonator, in full Victorian-era garb, walked around the premises and was photographed with attendees.

The grand event was even broadcast live to more than 50,000 people on Facebook with the help of a hovering drone.

While the center has held birthday celebrations for Tesla in the past, this one was the biggest yet and was also in acknowledgement of the 100th anniversary of the dismantling of his legendary and ahead-of-its-time wireless transmitting tower, which sat on the Shoreham property before being torn down July 4, 1917.

“It seemed important that we do something with a little more bang,” Jane Alcorn, Tesla Science Center board president said of this year’s event, the funds from which would go toward the development of the long-awaited Tesla museum and science center in the laboratory. “It’s exhilarating and humbling. We’re just so thrilled to see so many people are interested, and incredibly humbled knowing what Tesla represents to people.”

Dozens of vendors, including Brookhaven National Lab, North Shore Public Library, Museum of Interesting Things, Custer Institute & Observatory and Long Island Radio & TV Historical Society, set up at tables as people wearing Tesla shirts and pins browsed and bonded over their shared interest in the man who paved the way for several modern gadgets like cellphones. TVs and radios.

“He’s the father of just about everything we use … the hero of modern science,” Manorville resident and longtime Tesla researcher Axel Wicks said.

“He’s the father of just about everything we use … the hero of modern science.”

— Axel Wicks

Rachel Zyats, of Rocky Point, said she was excited that Tesla was finally getting the credit he deserved, as somebody who was greatly overshadowed by rival Thomas Edison

“Tesla was the real inventor,” Zyats said. “I think it’s great that more people are starting to learn about [him].”

Lynbrook mother Leeanne Chiulli and her 11-year-old daughter Kate, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, “Never underestimate a woman who loves Nikola Tesla,” said the creator is their idol. James Angell, a retired engineer from Commack, pointed to Tesla as a hero in the field of science.

“Tesla is one of the greatest geniuses in the last 100 years in engineering and electrical theory,” Angell said, noting his early development of quantum mechanics. “One hundred years before anyone started talking about it today, Tesla was talking about it. [He] had a concept years and years before anyone thought of it. [So] it’s very encouraging to see so many people who now have an interest in Tesla and his inventions.”

Standing at one of the booths was Joseph Sikorski, a Babylon-based filmmaker who made a documentary entitled “Tower to the People” about the history of Wardenclyffe and Tesla’s accomplishments there.

“Tesla is a great unifier and it’s awesome to see him opening a lot of doors for people of all types,” he said.

Several speakers took to the podium in front of the historic brick building where Tesla built his laboratory in 1901 with the help of renowned architect Stanford White.

“[He] had a concept years and years before anyone thought of it. [So] it’s very encouraging to see so many people who now have an interest in Tesla and his inventions.”

— James Angell

William Terbo, Tesla’s grandnephew, was also in attendance, recounting memories of his great-uncle.

With Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) alongside, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented Alcorn and Marc Alessi, executive director, with a proclamation for their work in keeping Tesla’s legacy alive. “Long live Tesla, long live ideas, long live science,” Romaine said.

At the end of the ceremony, young Kyle Driebeek, of Connecticut, performed “America the Beautiful” and “Happy Birthday” on the theremin, a Russian electronic instrument played without physical contact. Tesla-decorated birthday cake was also served.

Rock Brynner, professor, author and son of famous actor Yul, read Tesla-related excerpts from his book about the New York Power Authority’s origins and expressed his joy in seeing so many people in attendance.

“I expected to see maybe three kids and a sullen nanny, and instead there’s this enormously enthusiastic crowd … it’s wonderful,” Brynner said. “In the 1930s, a journalist asked Albert Einstein what it was like to be the most brilliant genius in the world and Einstein replied, ‘I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Nikola Tesla.’ I urge all of you to learn more about Tesla. His story is enthralling and tragic, beautiful and terribly moving.”

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe's Board of Directors President Jane Alcorn helps American Physical Society President Sam Aronson unveil the historic site plaque while American Physical Society chair member Paul Halpern looks on. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Tesla Science Center At Wardenclyffe, a lab of the former inventor Nikola Tesla, is the only one left of its kind, so it’s no surprise it’s historic.

To recognize this, a large crowd of local dignitaries and community members gathered in Shoreham Dec. 11 to witness the site be designated as a national historic physics site by the American Physical Society.

Back in 2013 a local not-for-profit known then as Friends of Science East Inc. raised over $1 million to purchase the property – Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory he conducted research in – when it was on the brink of being forgotten with the hopes of preserving its history. The site has since turned it into a hub for science education, “inspiring the Tesla’s of tomorrow.”

And while there’s still plenty of work to be done before the Science and Technology Center and Museum opens, the APS’s plaque presentation ceremony proved appreciation for Tesla is alive and well – due in large part to the determination of those in Shoreham to keep the legacy of the Serbian-born scientist and inventor of alternating current electricity and neon lighting energized.

“We wanted to have a place where children could build upon their science education, enhance what they learn in school, and have an opportunity to explore and develop a curiosity of how the world works.”

–Jane Alcorn

Members of the APS, the largest professional committee of physics in the U.S. that has deemed just 40 sites worthy of designation since 2004, presented the black stone plaque to Board of Directors President Jane Alcorn and Director Marc Alessi, because of the site’s commitment to raising awareness of Tesla and physics to Long Island and across the world.

Paul Halpern, a chair member with the society, said the site is of great value and interest in terms of history and science.

“There’s a lot of [renewed] interest in Tesla now, and we’re hoping this will help spur on the Tesla Science Center project to build a museum here,” Halpern said.

Speakers took to the podium in front of the historic brick building where Tesla built his laboratory in 1901 with the help of renowned architect Stanford White.

Unfortunately, his funders had given up on the project a few years later and a tower he was using to send wireless power across the world was demolished in 1917, leaving his grand vision to go unexplored.

But, as the plaque reads in gold lettering, “while long-distance wireless power transmission remains a dream, worldwide wireless communication was achieved within a century.”

Alcorn, who has been an especially instrumental force in saving the site, said she and the rest of the volunteers at the center are humbled to be listed among the other notable institutions and people who’ve received the prestigious recognition in the past.

“We work to educate the public about Tesla and his work,” Alcorn said. “We also work to educate the public about the importance of science education for children … so when we set out to create this place, we wanted to have a place where children could build upon their science education, enhance what they learn in school, and have an opportunity to explore and develop a curiosity of how the world works.”

Tescla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Director Marc Alessi speaks during the national historic site designation ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding
Tescla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Director Marc Alessi speaks during the national historic site designation ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding

In the future, the 16-acre campus plans to include a children’s playground, an entrepreneurial lab, an exhibit space and a gathering space for community events and programs.

Alessi said he and the center raised upwards of $1.37 million in 2012 in collaboration with internet cartoonist Matt Inman through an internet fundraising campaign that had the support of over 33,000 people in 108 countries. They obtained the property from the Agfa Corporation officially in May 2013.

“For quite some time, [Tesla] was almost forgotten,” Alessi said. “If it wasn’t for the work of many of the people here in this community and across the country we would have lost this location, historic lab and beautiful building behind us. With all of that hard work we’ve been able to secure the property and pay testament to the history of this property and Tesla’s legacy here by establishing the museum and science center.”

Alessi said the site belongs to the public and the center wants to open as soon as possible and will continue to fundraise. Just that day, he said he was informed somebody in attendance of the ceremony who wished to remain anonymous donated $5,000.

He said the center hopes to have two buildings up by early 2018 and intends to eventually have something to the scale of the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey or the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Just before the official register was signed to seal the designation, Alessi called Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the science center being developed is desperately needed in a nation that needs to focus more on science and fact.

“We are standing here – long after Tesla’s death in 1944, long after his emigration to this country in 1884 – to remind people that the power of ideas doesn’t die with the person who thought those ideas,” Romaine said. “We envision this to be one our best institutes.”