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Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Famed scientist, inventor and entrepreneur Nikola Tesla would have been 165 this year, and the best way to celebrate his life and legacy was to party at his old lab in Shoreham. 

On Saturday, July 10, hundreds of people gathered at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe for the Tesla Birthday Expo and Birthday Night Show.

The events featured a number of educational exhibits including many of the local STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — exhibits, robotic clubs, Tesla coils, Tesla car showcase, amateur radio, battlebots, Maker Space trailer, local artisans and an interactive STEAM bus from New York Institute of Technology. The daytime event was coupled with a lively nighttime celebration featuring the band ArcAttack.

“What an amazing day to celebrate one of this world’s most acclaimed scientist and inventor,” said county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). “Thanks to the many TSCW volunteers, local and international community support, and the many partnerships with government, Nikola Tesla’s legacy will continue to inspire and encourage our future scientists.”

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. Known as a man before his time, he was deemed a genius while researching alternating current systems. He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He thought he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard from Niagara Falls. 

An inventor with hundreds of patents, he was involved in the invention of the radio, remote control and more.

In 1901 Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. A huge 187-foot tower was designed and constructed for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his heavier equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early ’30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to eventually buy the property in 2013, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

According to Doug Borge, chief operating officer at TSCW, “At our annual Tesla Birthday events, we not only celebrate Nikola Tesla’s contributions, but also his living legacy that we each build upon through science and innovation.”

The mission of Tesla’s last remaining lab is to develop the site into a transformative global science center that embraces his bold spirit of invention, provides innovative learning experiences, fosters the advancement of new technologies and preserves his legacy in the Tesla Museum.

The group imagines a world where people appreciate Tesla’s contributions, are inspired by his scientific audacity and engage in the future betterment of humanity.

“Today is a perfect example of where we are as an organization,” Borge said. “We’re a community hub for people that love science technology, that are associated with Nikola Tesla and to be a resource for people to leverage, learn and become their own version of Tesla.”

In general, technology and interactivity at this year’s Tesla Birthday Expo were more engaging and popular than ever, he added. New and expanded STEAM exhibits allowed attendees to get hands-on with Tesla inventions and technology. 

ArcAttack made their first visit to Wardenclyffe and took things to a whole new level with a performance at the night shows featuring Tesla coils, rock music and lightning-producing electric instruments. Volunteers in the audience were “zapped” in a Faraday cage, including TSCW’s executive director Marc Alessi.

“We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance at this year’s Tesla Birthday events, due to the pandemic,” Borge said. “Fortunately, we had a great turnout at both the daytime Tesla Birthday Expo and night show.”

Borge added that “the expo is interesting because you can see the crowds clustering around specific exhibits and interacting with enthusiasm.”  

Some fan favorites were the 3D scan that showed the interior of Tesla’s laboratory as it looks today, the robotics and maker space area, along with the go-carts and robots zipping around. 

“This is such an exciting event for the community to learn about important advances in technology,” said attorney and advocate Laura Ahearn, of Port Jefferson. “I’m really excited about getting to meet community members that come here, and some of the high school students that have built from scratch robotic devices better than anything … when I was in high school, I wish I would have had the opportunities that these young students have because it’s going to help them in their future.”

Borge said within the next few weeks, demolition of the dilapidated, noncontributing factory building suffocating Tesla’s laboratory will begin. Additionally, they plan to break ground on its visitor center that will allow them to pilot exhibits and engage and educate more visitors at Wardenclyffe. 

“These are important next steps in the development of TSCW and a moment that many of our global supporters have been looking forward to since TSCW’s record-breaking crowdfund in 2012, which raised $1.4 million in six weeks from 33,000 donors in 108 countries,” he said. “These funds, along with a matching grant from New York State and contributions from supporters like the Musk Foundation, enabled us to purchase Wardenclyffe in 2013. Fast forward to 2021, and TSCW is now positioned to start renovations after raising $10.2 million and acquiring the necessary plans and permits. It’s important to note that we still need to raise another $9.8 million to finish developing the site.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also made an appearance.

“It’s just really exciting to encourage interest in science and to recognize the history here on Long Island,” she said. “It has such an important impact in so many ways.”

The center will be hosting more events this summer, including the Sound of Science concert on Aug. 28 in collaboration with another nonprofit, Rites of Spring Festival, that will offer a unique immersive musical experience by electronic musicians and contemporary composers.  

Sept. 23 is TSCW’s Third Annual Gala fundraiser for an evening of virtual entertainment, auctions and tech surprises. 

Later in the year, Wardenclyffe will host a Halloween event on Oct. 30, and their annual holiday lighting on Dec. 3. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

In an ongoing process to keep Nikola Tesla’s legacy alive on Long Island’s North Shore, the first-ever “Metal for Tesla” event was recently held, benefiting both the environment and the nonprofit’s cause.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. A sad, but interesting history, the lab has been working toward becoming a science museum, that celebrates science, along with the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor. 

But the funds aren’t always easy to come by, and it’s taken the support from dozens of sponsors, fundraising, grants and crowdsourcing to get where they are today. 

On Saturday, March 20 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., over 250 people attended the site and more than 16,000 people around the world shared the event to recycle in their areas and donate to the Tesla Center online. The center partnered with Gershow Recycling. 

Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi said they have recycled metal on the premise before, and since taking over the site, have recycled up to 62 tons (or 124,000 pounds) of metal. That has equated to be about $6,500.

This year, they raised approximately $9,500 in metal, plus the value of four cars, to support the rebuilding of Tesla’s lab into a museum and global science center for all. 

“It’s money that goes toward the mission, which is rehabilitating the lab and opening it to the public,” Alessi said. “But the mission is also spreading Nikola Tesla’s ethos … he was someone that was advocating for sustainability, conservation and the use of renewable energies in the 1890s. And in retrospect, he was right on the money.”

A man before his time

Alessi said that during the height of Tesla’s career, people didn’t know what he was trying to do. Born in what is now Croatia, and of Serbian descent, Nikola Tesla immigrated to the United States in 1884.

“But he was a man of the world,” Alessi said. 

He began working at the Edison Corporation, where he was immediately seen as a genius. Upon his research, he began realizing that alternating current systems — compared to Edison’s direct current systems — would be more beneficial and safer option. 

“With one power plant, you can power many neighborhoods and factories,” Alessi said. “Under Tesla’s use of AC, and the way he put it together, it could power motors …. Direct current, you would need a power plant every two miles. Can you imagine what our environment would be like if they tried to electrify doing that?”

He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He believed he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard with Niagara Falls. 

Tesla and Edison became engrossed in a battle, leaving Tesla to attempt to start his own company with plenty of struggle. Throughout his career, he had his ups and downs.

“Even though he had over 200 patents and invented radio, remote control, the speedometer, and the technology behind neon lighting, fluorescent lighting and early forms of X-ray,”  Alessi said, “Tesla didn’t look at other inventors as competition.”

For example, Guglielmo Marconi used 17 of Tesla’s patents to help create his single transmission. 

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose.

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. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early 30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and in 2007 the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to buy the property, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

“They did a crowdfunding on Indiegogo, and at the time, it set a world record,” Alessi said. “They raised 1.4 million in six weeks, from 108 countries and 50 states — 33,000 donors,”

The site

Over the last few years, things have been moving along for the Tesla Science Center site. Through more fundraising and big-name sponsors (like Elon Musk who contributed some money), plans are continuously on the way. 

In September, renovations were completed on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s historic laboratory, originally constructed by architect Stanford White in 1902. This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation — a foundation here on Long Island that focuses on funding to restore historic sites.

Alessi said the project costs about $20 million and so far, $10.2 million has been raised. Permits with the town and DEC are still under review to begin working on the site’s visitor center — a small white house in the front of the property, which had nothing to do with Tesla. He’s hoping for the demo permit and the center to be completed this year. 

“We will continue to raise capital,” he said. “We need at least five-to-10 million to finish the lab building and put exhibits there.”

Part of the process includes rebuilding the significant 187-foot tower that was once on the property.

“It was the tallest structure on Long Island, it went up almost 200-feet into the ground,” Alessi added.

Tesla had envisioned 14 towers around the world, with power plants similar to what the Wardenclyffe lab was. 

“The beauty of it, is this guy wanted to provide free energy to everybody,” he said. “Imagine everybody having free power with 14 power plants. It’s a beautiful story — and that’s what the part of what the tower was supposed to be.”

Bringing the metal back

It all comes full circle, Alessi said, and it’s quite ironic. 

“When Tesla lost control of the property, they demolished his famed tower, sold it for scrap and recycled it,” he said. “So now, we’re asking people to bring metal back to the site, so that we can restore the site, and one day we build the tower, too.”

Alessi said that since taking over the property, the center has always encouraged people to donate recycled metal to the bin on site. This year was the first time a whole event was dedicated to it. 

“This is something we plan to do every year,” Alessi said. “It helps raise funding for the lab, but it also helps celebrate who Tesla was. I think it’s a really great event.”

And people can still continue to donate metal to the cause.

“This is a guy that in the 1890s said, ‘Don’t go down the path of coal … we need to be sustainable,” Alessi said. “We need to conserve, so it makes us feel like we’re making him proud by doing this on his site.”

This article was updated to fix historical inaccuracies. 

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Legislator Sarah Anker and Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi. Photo from Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) recently presented the Tesla Science Center with a $6,000 grant, which is awarded to organizations that benefit tourism and/or cultural programming in Suffolk County. The grant was utilized to pay for operational costs related to the restoration of Nikola Tesla’s laboratory and the construction of a new visitor’s center. The Tesla Science Center plans to turn Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory in Shoreham into a science museum celebrating science and the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor.

“Thank you to the Tesla Science Center for their devotion to the accessibility and advancement of technology, and to the preservation and restoration of the historic Nikola Tesla’s laboratory,” Anker said. “Our community has benefited from the presence of the center and the wide range of virtual resources available through their Virtual Science Center.”

The Tesla Science Center recently completed renovations on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s laboratory. The center is moving forward in the next phase of renovations and is on track to complete the construction of the visitor’s center by next year. 

“The need for virtual education increased dramatically due to COVID-19, as educators, parents, and students looked for safe, connective e-learning options,” said Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi. “In response, Tesla Science Center aggressively expanded its virtual education programming. Thousands of people are benefitting, but we needed support to continue. Thanks to the Suffolk County Omnibus Grant facilitated by Legislator Anker, critically needed virtual education will be available to many more people in our community.”

While the museum and visitor center remain under construction, the center has created a Virtual Science Center that is available on their website. The Virtual Science Center features podcasts, informational videos, and virtual STEM camp programs and activities for all ages. For more information, please visit https://teslasciencecenter.org/

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

When the pandemic swept through Long Island in the past few months, when businesses closed and schools went online, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham has had to reimagine its efforts while hoping to still have in-person events at newly renovated buildings next year.

Last October, the nonprofit submitted its site plans to the Town of Brookhaven, with designs including first renovating the small, two-story house at the front of the property before starting renovations on the lab itself. Marc Alessi, the executive director of the science center, said construction had to halt due to the pandemic, but now the project has resumed after Phase 1 of reopening.

But in that time, the center has laterally moved its focus, according to the nonprofits’ executive director. Moving on to the virtual medium has allowed the center to refocus its education efforts, he said, while compelling them to come up with new fundraising opportunities. 

“It’s gratifying that even before we open our doors we’re starting to provide that content and this programming,” Alessi said.

From June into this month, the center has promoted multiple online activities. This includes a Sprint for STEAM: 5k Virtual Run/Walk/Roll for Virtual Education, where the center is hoping to raise $125,000 for virtual education programs through support or donations. The center has also started a Virtual Summer STEAM Camp for kids, led by the center’s new education director Hannah Weiss. Later this month, the center is also starting a Virtual Education Certificate Program with the New York Institute of Technology, which will specifically help teachers learn about different technologies used in distance learning. Alessi said several school districts nationally, plus a few on Long Island, will be participating, and kids from other states and even other countries are looking to participate in the virtual summer camp. This is in addition to the center’s Tesla Unwired video podcasts with scientists and other people in the tech world, which started back in April.

Alessi said this move to digital education meant they had a better foothold in a lagging economy being slammed by the pandemic.

“With everything that’s happening, we’re going all in on providing this virtual content,” he said. “We hired an education coordinator. We didn’t lay off staff, we hired staff during this crisis.”

The center is also hosting its annual Tesla Birthday Bash on July 11 differently this year, with demonstrations of a 17-foot Tesla Coil being hosted online, and the center will be showing an online and drive-in version of the movie “Tesla” several weeks before it comes out. Tickets for the drive-in screening are $150 per car, with the money going to support the center’s online education initiatives.

The science center came to be in 2012, when along with the website The Oatmeal, a small North Shore nonprofit, purchased the land with $1.4 million raised to help purchase the land. Alessi, who was brought on as executive director in 2016, said restoring the site and creating a museum is a $20 million project, of which they have raised $10 million in the past few years.

“We always felt this was a world historic site, and the fact that the world saved it really multiplies that feeling,” Alessi said.

As reconstruction continues on the laboratory building, famous for its historical nature also having been designed by renowned early 20th-century architect Stanford White, it unveils new mysteries. Workers rebuilding the chimney on the lab itself uncovered an arched brick opening in the base of the eastern chimney wall June 5, and the science center is still trying to understand why that was built into the original structure. 

Otherwise, the site plans for the larger context of the Tesla Center are still under review with the Town of Brookhaven.

But the future of the site still depends largely on what happens in the next year or so. Just like many places billing themselves as galleries or museums, many who want crowds to be able to come through and visit are depending on a vaccine for COVID-19 to more effectively ensure visitors’ safety.

“We’re lucky we’ve always stayed very lean as far as operations, and we’ve been able to create these air-tight budgets for this year,” Alessi said. “If this crisis lasts another year into next year, it could impact our programming.”

The Tesla Science Center put up some spooky lighting Oct. 19 to celebrate Halloween at Wardenclyffe. Young people dressed up in costume to witness the center’s usual displays of science from famed inventor Nikola Tesla, but now in period costume. Children participated in crafts, costume and jack-o-lantern contests and watched Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween on a projected screen from the front lawn. 

 

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.

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.”