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Tesla Science Center

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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 volunteers celebrate restored chimney is capped with an iron wellhead, finishing the first official renovation to the Nikola Tesla’s famed Shoreham laboritory. Plans are continuing to create a museum and science center in the space. Photo by Kyle Barr

Last Saturday was a day of firsts, both in the proverbial and the concrete. On a day which showed the first real touch of cool fall weather after an oftentimes blistering summer, so too did the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe put its finishing touches on what’s expected to eventually be a full museum and learning center for the North Shore.

Tesla Science Center capped off its chimney construction with the famous wellhead. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Sept. 19, the center unveiled its newly reconstructed chimney sitting atop the historic building constructed by the brilliant but notorious architect Stanford White in 1902. The small crowd of volunteers and local supporters cheered as the newly reworked 1,200-pound black-iron crown, also known as a wellhead, was lowered down onto the chimney via crane. The iron crown was originally repaired by a local blacksmith while a team of volunteers worked to give it a fresh sheen.

It was a touching moment for the several volunteers who came to watch the final piece laid on top. Many of those have been with the project since the local nonprofit Friends of Science East bought the property through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in 2013. They have helped clean the grounds, landscape the property and be there for the multiple fundraising events. If you asked the volunteers gathered there, they would tell you the chimney was originally used to vent heat and exhaust from a Westinghouse dynamo that famed scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla used to generate power for his experiments in wireless energy and communications.

As excited as those gathered were, the ceremony came just a little more than a week after Suffolk County police said an unknown person or persons broke into the science center earlier this month and graffitied the inside and smashed windows just underneath the now-reconstructed chimney.

Police said the vandals entered the science center, located at 5 Randall Road, Shoreham, sometime between Sept. 7 and 12. Whoever it was apparently spray-painted “WTF” on one of the walls and another acronym on a toilet. The damage was valued at approximately $3,000.

Kevin Cahill, a project manager for Skyline, stands in front of the new renovations. Photo by Kyle Barr

But by the weekend following the vandalism, all windows had been fixed, and there wasn’t one downcast face amongst the spectators.

Marc Alessi, executive director of the science center, said the chimney restoration in total cost around $230,000, and much was covered thanks to a grant from the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. Original plans were just to reconstruct the top portion of the chimney, but structural issues quickly became apparent, and they ordered that the entire piece be remade. Work originally started in May, but the ongoing pandemic pushed back construction awhile.

The center tapped Long Island City-based building restoration company Skyline Restoration to perform the task. Kevin Cahill, a project manager for Skyline, said each brick was designed to match both the color and size of the original structure. Though the company is hired on other historic projects, this one, he said, is special. 

“It’s exciting bringing back something that’s so old and keeping it to what it was originally was,” he said. “We redid the windows exactly how they originally were — the brickwork, matching the mortar colors, bringing it back to the exact dimensions it originally was.”

Though in doing the reconstruction, Cahill said numerous other significant discoveries were made while doing construction June 5. Inside the building, beneath the chimney is an arched-brick opening in the base, something that connected several tunnels leading off in different directions. Finding those, Cahill said he crawled through in the dark, wondering what he would find. Unfortunately, the path was blocked by some collapsed brick, but that might have covered up another entryway.

Alessi said these tunnels could have had something to do with Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower, which the lab site was originally built for. It was designed to allow electricity to travel wirelessly, but so much is still unknown of how it would work. He added the site’s hired historic architect may make more details on that available in the near future

Tesla Science Center capped off its chimney construction with the famous wellhead. Photo by Kyle Barr

For Jane Alcorn, president of the science center’s board of directors, it was a stunning moment watching the iron cupola lowered down onto the chimney. She was at the head of Friends of Science East when it originally bought the property, and though it has been slow coming to this moment, she said this project was never something they wanted to rush.

“We said we were going to do this right, not fast,” Alcorn said. “This is really the first section of the lab that’s been restored, so we are well on our way.”

The center has raised around $10.2 million for its museum and science center project, about halfway toward its total $20 million goal. It’s enough to get started, Alessi said, and the next stage of the project is to remove the large metal-walled building abutting the historic lab, leaving the building looking like it was originally intended to. After that, it’s on to constructing a welcome center where an old house sits on the southwest end of property and developing its programs. 

The Tesla Science Center’s executive director added they are still in the process of getting demolition permits from the Town of Brookhaven, but hopes that part should be finished around the end of October. 

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Suffolk County Police said an unknown person or persons broke into the Tesla Science Center earlier this month and graffitied the inside and broke windows on the now reconstructed chimney.

Police said the vandals broke into the Tesla Science Center, located at 5 Randall Road, sometime between Sept. 7 and Sept. 12. Whoever broke in apparently spray painted WTF on one of the walls and another acronym on a toilet. The damage was valued at approximately $3,000.

On Sept. 19, the center held a ceremony where they displayed the final touches on the center’s reconstructed chimney. The windows had already been fixed by the time of the event. Those in charge of restoration said those windows had been painstakingly recreated to match the Tesla lab’s original design.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS (8477), utilizing a mobile app which can be downloaded through the App Store or Google Play by searching P3 Tips, or online at www.P3Tips.com. All calls, text messages and emails are kept confidential. 

Check back later this week for the full story and more pictures of the first real renovation to Tesla’s historic lab.

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.

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Todd Aydelotte, a Manhattan native and ultrarunner, was more than winded as he crossed through the threshold of the Shoreham Wardenclyffe property Jan. 10. He was frozen solid from running 74 miles in subfreezing temperatures and whipping winds, and he was visibly exhausted by near-constant running across the length of Long Island over two days.

But once he arrived at the site of famous inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla’s last living laboratory, he still had the strength to embrace his wife and lay his hand on the century-old building’s facade.

“Tesla said energy was everywhere around us — it was all over the Earth, and we, as people, could actually harness that energy,” Aydelotte said to the small crowd gathered to welcome him at the Tesla Science Center. “I started seeing myself capturing that energy.”

‘I started seeing myself capturing that energy.’

— Todd Aydelotte

The Manhattanite is an ultrarunner, a person who commits to a form of long-distance running that goes far beyond something like a marathon. Whereas a typical marathon is 26.2 miles, an ultrarunner can run for 50, 70 or even more than 100 miles. Often these extreme athletes take treks through natural preserves such as the Grand Canyon, but for close to two years Aydelotte has taken a different approach, instead using his passion for history as the driving force for him to take these long-distance treks. 

“If you look at some of the world’s great ultrarunners … one tool they use is they’re mostly trail runners, when they get into it they lose themselves in the beauty all around them,” the runner said. “Being in Manhattan I don’t have that luxury, but I’m super into history. I started going off on these long runs after studying up on history, so it could be in my head, something that could carry me the long miles.”

Those working in the Tesla Science Center, which plans on turning the Shoreham Wardenclyffe site into a science museum and science startup incubator, learned of Aydelotte’s plan around two weeks before the run and were ecstatic to see him arrive.

“We’ve been waiting on you with bated breath,” the center’s board president, Jane Alcorn, said to the newly arrived runner.

Aydelotte’s route started at around 11 a.m. Jan. 9 and took him all over Manhattan, taking breaks in between running to visit and take pictures of sites such as the Waldorf Astoria in Midtown where Tesla lived for many years at the height of the Gilded Age, and the Gerlach Hotel on 27th Street where Tesla once resided and tested his transmission equipment on the roof. 

The runner’s route also took him to Chambers Street in Manhattan, a site made famous when a Western Union lineman John Feeks was electrocuted to death in 1889 while working on the electrical lines above the street. This occurred just as the famous “current wars,” a feud between the well-known Thomas Edison and Tesla over whether Edison’s direct current would propagate better than Tesla’s superior alternating current. Edison would use this event as well as other displays, such as when he publicly executed a living elephant in 1903 with alternating current, as a way to discredit Tesla and show how his form of electrical current was harmful or even dangerous.

Aydelotte’s wife, Tess Ghilaga, a yoga instructor in Manhattan, said her husband is training every single week, running two to three times a week and practicing yoga under her careful attention four to five times a week. She’s helped him through his constant training, and said she enjoys getting to be a part of learning of pieces of history like the Tesla Science Center.

‘People identify with someone who works very hard to achieve a goal without being recognized for it.’

— Jane Alcorn

“Depending on what hurts his body, I’ll help him with knee work, hip work, back core, the changes that happen when you run so far so often,” Ghilaga said. “I grew up in Garden City, so I know the East End, but I didn’t know anything about the science center until he read a book. It’s so cool that it’s being resurrected.”

This is the third, and longest, ultrarun Aydelotte has accomplished. Previous runs have taken him 49 miles from New York City to Long Island looking at the history of Teddy Roosevelt while another 64.5-mile run took him from the city through Connecticut tracing the history of famous American showman P.T .Barnum. While the ultrarunner said he felt accomplished to complete his longest run so far at 74 miles, this race held a raw, emotional tie to his person since he saw something of Tesla in himself, a sort of drive that pushes a person past the point of exhaustion and doubt.

“He was relentless in his work ethic, in his values,’ Aydelotte said. “He was a good man, a great man. There are so many reports of him working day upon day upon day upon day, not giving up on a vision.”

Alcorn could only nod at the notion that Tesla continues to inspire people 76 years after his death Jan. 7, 1943.

“People identify with someone who works very hard to achieve a goal without being recognized for it,” said the board president. “It’s what we try to do here, to put some focus on him and what he tried to do.”

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.

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 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.”