Tesla's Legacy - Collected Works of the Visionary Inventor Who Changed the FutureTekst

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A different arrangement used in some of the bulbs constructed is illustrated in Fig. 23. In this instance a non-conductor m is mounted in a piece of common arc light carbon so as to project some small distance above the latter. The carbon piece is connected to the leading-in wire passing through a glass stem, which is wrapped with several layers of mica. An aluminium tube a is employed as usual for screening. It is so arranged that it reaches very nearly as high as the carbon and only the non-conductor m projects a little above it. The bombardment goes at first against the upper surface of carbon, the lower parts being protected by the aluminium tube. As soon, however, as the non-conductor m is heated it is rendered good conducting, and then it becomes the centre of the bombardment, being most exposed to the same.

I have also constructed during these experiments many such single-wire bulbs with or without internal electrode, in which the radiant matter was projected against, or focused upon, the body to be rendered incandescent. Fig. 24 illustrates one of the bulbs used. It consists of a spherical globe L, provided with a long neck n, on the top, for increasing the action in some cases by the application of an external conducting coating. The globe L is blown out on the bottom into a very small bulb b, which serves to hold it firmly in a socket S of insulating material into which it is cemented. A fine lamp filament f, supported on a wire w, passes through the centre of the globe L. The filament is rendered incandescent in the middle portion, where the bombardment proceeding from the lower inside surface of the globe is most intense. The lower portion of the globe, as far as the socket S reaches, is rendered conducting, either by a tinfoil coating or otherwise, and the external electrode is connected to a terminal of the coil.

The arrangement diagrammatically indicated in Fig. 24 was found to be an inferior one when it was desired to render incandescent a filament or button supported in the centre of the globe, but it was convenient when the object was to excite phosphorescence.

In many experiments in which bodies of a different kind were mounted in the bulb as, for instance, indicated in Fig. 23, some observations of interest were made.

It was found, among other things, that in such cases, no matter where the bombardment began, just as soon as a high temperature was reached there was generally one of the bodies which seemed to take most of the bombardment upon itself, the other, or others, being thereby relieved. This quality appeared to depend principally on the point of fusion, and on the facility with which the body was "evaporated," or, generally speaking, disintegrated—meaning by the latter term not only the throwing off of atoms, but likewise of larger lumps. The observation made was in accordance with generally accepted notions. In a highly exhausted bulb electricity is carried off from the electrode by independent carriers, which are partly the atoms, or molecules, of the residual atmosphere, and partly the atoms, molecules, or lumps thrown off from the electrode. If the electrode is composed of bodies of different character, and if one of these is more easily disintegrated than the others, most of the electricity supplied is carried off from that body, which is then brought to a higher temperature than the others, and this the more, as upon an increase of the temperature the body is still more easily disintegrated.

It seems to me quite probable that a similar process takes place in the bulb even with a homogeneous electrode, and I think it to be the principal cause of the disintegration. There is bound to be some irregularity, even if the surface is highly polished, which, of course, is impossible with most of the refractory bodies employed as electrodes. Assume that a point of the electrode gets hotter, instantly most of the discharge passes through that point, and a minute patch is probably fused and evaporated. It is now possible that in consequence of the violent disintegration the spot attacked sinks in temperature, or that a counter force is created, as in an arc; at any rate, the local tearing off meets with the limitations incident to the experiment, whereupon the same process occurs on another place. To the eye the electrode appears uniformly brilliant, but there are upon it points constantly shifting and wandering around, of a temperature far above the mean, and this materially hastens the process of deterioration. That some such thing occurs, at least when the electrode is at a lower temperature, sufficient experimental evidence can be obtained in the following manner: Exhaust a bulb to a very high degree, so that with a fairly high potential the discharge cannot pass—that is, not a luminous one, for a weak invisible discharge occurs always, in all probability. Now raise slowly and carefully the potential, leaving the primary current on no more than for an instant. At a certain point, two, three, or half a dozen phosphorescent spots will appear on the globe. These places of the glass are evidently more violently bombarded than others, this being due to the unevenly distributed electric density, necessitated, of course, by sharp projections, or, generally speaking, irregularities of the electrode. But the luminous patches are constantly changing in position, which is especially well observable if one manages to produce very few, and this indicates that the configuration of the electrode is rapidly changing.

From experiences of this kind I am led to infer that, in order to be most durable, the refractory button in the bulb should be in the form of a sphere with a highly polished surface. Such a small sphere could be manufactured from a diamond or some other crystal, but a better way would be to fuse, by the employment of extreme degrees of temperature, some oxide—as, for instance, zirconia—into a small drop, and then keep it in the bulb at a temperature somewhat below its point of fusion.

Interesting and useful results can no doubt be reached in the direction of extreme degrees of heat. How can such high temperatures be arrived at? How are the highest degrees of heat reached in nature? By the impact of stars, by high speeds and collisions. In a collision any rate of heat generation may be attained. In a chemical process we are limited. When oxygen and hydrogen combine, they fall, metaphorically speaking, from a definite height. We cannot go very far with a blast, nor by confining heat in a furnace, but in an exhausted bulb we can concentrate any amount of energy upon a minute button. Leaving practicability out of consideration, this, then, would be the means which, in my opinion, would enable us to reach the highest temperature. But a great difficulty when proceeding in this way is encountered, namely, in most cases the body is carried off before it can fuse and form a drop. This difficulty exists principally with an oxide such as zirconia, because it cannot be compressed in so hard a cake that it would not be carried off quickly. I endeavored repeatedly to fuse zirconia, placing it in a cup or arc light carbon as indicated in Fig. 23. It glowed with a most intense light, and the stream of the particles projected out of the carbon cup was of a vivid white: but whether it was compressed in a cake or made into a paste with carbon, it was carried off before it could be fused. The carbon cup containing the zirconia had to be mounted very low in the neck of a large bulb, as the heating of the glass by the projected particles of the oxide was so rapid that in the first trial the bulb was cracked almost in an instant when the current was turned on. The heating of the glass by the projected particles was found to be always greater when the carbon cup contained a body which was rapidly carried off—I presume because in such cases, with the same potential, higher speeds were reached, and also because, per unit of time, more matter was projected—that is, more particles would strike the glass.

The before mentioned difficulty did not exist, however, when the body mounted in the carbon cup offered great resistance to deterioration. For instance, when an oxide was first fused in an oxygen blast and then mounted in the bulb, it melted very readily into a drop.

Generally during the process of fusion magnificent light effects were noted, of which it would be difficult to give an adequate idea. Fig. 23 is intended to illustrate the effect observed with a ruby drop. At first one may see a narrow funnel of white light projected against the top of the globe, where it produces an irregularly outlined phosphorescent patch. When the point of the ruby fuses the phosphorescence becomes very powerful; but as the atoms are projected with much greater speed from the surface of the drop, soon the glass gets hot and "tired," and now only the outer edge of the patch glows. In this manner an intensely phosphorescent, sharply defined line, l, corresponding to the outline of the drop, is produced, which spreads slowly over the globe as the drop gets larger. When the mass begins to boil, small bubbles and cavities are formed, which cause dark colored spots to sweep across the globe. The bulb may be turned downward without fear of the drop falling off, as the mass possesses considerable viscosity.

I may mention here another feature of some interest, which I believe to have noted in the course of these experiments, though the observations do not amount to a certitude. It appeared that under the molecular impact caused by the rapidly alternating potential the body was fused and maintained in that state at a lower temperature in a highly exhausted bulb than was the case at normal pressure and application of heat in the ordinary way—that is, at least, judging from the quantity of the light emitted. One of the experiments performed may be mentioned here by way of illustration. A small piece of pumice stone was stuck on a platinum wire, and first melted to it in a gas burner. The wire was next placed between two pieces of charcoal and a burner applied so as to produce an intense heat, sufficient to melt down the pumice stone into a small glass-like button. The platinum wire had to be taken of sufficient thickness to prevent its melting in the fire. While in the charcoal fire, or when held in a burner to get a better idea of the degree of heat, the button glowed with great brilliancy. The wire with the button was then mounted in a bulb, and upon exhausting the same to a high degree, the current was turned on slowly so as to prevent the cracking of the button. The button was heated to the point of fusion, and when it melted it did not, apparently, glow with the same brilliancy as before, and this would indicate a lower temperature. Leaving out of consideration the observer's possible, and even probable, error, the question is, can a body under these conditions be brought from a solid to a liquid state with evolution of less light?


When the potential of a body is rapidly alternated it is certain that the structure is jarred. When the potential is very high, although the vibrations may be few—say 20,000 per second—the effect upon the structure may be considerable. Suppose, for example, that a ruby is melted into a drop by a steady application of energy. When it forms a drop it will emit visible and invisible waves, which will be in a definite ratio, and to the eye the drop will appear to be of a certain brilliancy. Next, suppose we diminish to any degree we choose the energy steadily supplied, and, instead, supply energy which rises and falls according to a certain law. Now, when the drop is formed, there will be emitted from it three different kinds of vibrations—the ordinary visible, and two kinds of invisible waves: that is, the ordinary dark waves of all lengths, and, in addition, waves of a well defined character. The latter would not exist by a steady supply of the energy; still they help to jar and loosen the structure. If this really be the case, then the ruby drop will emit relatively less visible and more invisible waves than before. Thus it would seem that when a platinum wire, for instance, is fused by currents alternating with extreme rapidity, it emits at the point of fusion less light and more invisible radiation than it does when melted by a steady current, though the total energy used up in the process of fusion is the same in both cases. Or, to cite another example, a lamp filament is not capable of withstanding as long with currents of extreme frequency as it does with steady currents, assuming that it be worked at the same luminous intensity. This means that for rapidly alternating currents the filament should be shorter and thicker. The higher the frequency—that is, the greater the departure from the steady flow—the worse it would be for the filament. But if the truth of this remark were demonstrated, it would be erroneous to conclude that such a refractory button as used in these bulbs would be deteriorated quicker by currents of extremely high frequency than by steady or low frequency currents. From experience I may say that just the opposite holds good: the button withstands the bombardment better with currents of very high frequency. But this is due to the fact that a high frequency discharge passes through a rarefied gas with much greater freedom than a steady or low frequency discharge, and this will say that with the former we can work with a lower potential or with a less violent impact. As long, then, as the gas is of no consequence, a steady or low frequency current is better; but as soon as the action of the gas is desired and important, high frequencies are preferable.

In the course of these experiments a great many trials were made with all kinds of carbon buttons. Electrodes made of ordinary carbon buttons were decidedly more durable when the buttons were obtained by the application of enormous pressure. Electrodes prepared by depositing carbon in well known ways did not show up well; they blackened the globe very quickly. From many experiences I conclude that lamp filaments obtained in this manner can be advantageously used only with low potentials and low frequency currents. Some kinds of carbon withstand so well that, in order to bring them to the point of fusion, it is necessary to employ very small buttons. In this case the observation is rendered very difficult on account of the intense heat produced. Nevertheless there can be no doubt that all kinds of carbon are fused under the molecular bombardment, but the liquid state must be one of great instability. Of all the bodies tried there were two which withstood best—diamond and carborundum. These two showed up about equally, but the latter was preferable, for many reasons. As it is more than likely that this body is not yet generally known, I will venture to call your attention to it.

It has been recently produced by Mr. E.G. Acheson, of Monongahela City, Pa., U.S.A. It is intended to replace ordinary diamond powder for polishing precious stones, etc., and I have been informed that it accomplishes this object quite successfully. I do not know why the name "carborundum" has been given to it, unless there is something in the process of its manufacture which justifies this selection. Through the kindness of the inventor, I obtained a short while ago some samples which I desired to test in regard to their qualities of phosphorescence and capability of withstanding high degrees of heat.

Carborundum can be obtained in two forms—in the form of "crystals" and of powder. The former appear to the naked eye dark colored, but are very brilliant; the latter is of nearly the same color as ordinary diamond powder, but very much finer. When viewed under a microscope the samples of crystals given to me did not appear to have any definite form, but rather resembled pieces of broken up egg coal of fine quality. The majority were opaque, but there were some which were transparent and colored. The crystals are a kind of carbon containing some impurities; they are extremely hard, and withstand for a long time even an oxygen blast. When the blast is directed against them they at first form a cake of some compactness, probably in consequence of the fusion of impurities they contain. The mass withstands for a very long time the blast without further fusion; but a slow carrying off, or burning, occurs, and, finally, a small quantity of a glass-like residue is left, which, I suppose, is melted alumina. When compressed strongly they conduct very well, but not as well as ordinary carbon. The powder, which is obtained from the crystals in some way, is practically non-conducting. It affords a magnificent polishing material for stones.

The time has been too short to make a satisfactory study of the properties of this product, but enough experience has been gained in a few weeks I have experimented upon it to say that it does possess some remarkable properties in many respects. It withstands excessively high degrees of heat, it is little deteriorated by molecular bombardment, and it does not blacken the globe as ordinary carbon does. The only difficulty which I have found in its use in connection with these experiments was to find some binding material which would resist the heat and the effect of the bombardment as successfully as carborundum itself does.

I have here a number of bulbs which I have provided with buttons of carborundum. To make such a button of carborundum crystals I proceed in the following manner: I take an ordinary lamp filament and dip its point in tar, or some other thick substance or paint which may be readily carbonized. I next pass the point of the filament through the crystals, and then hold it vertically over a hot plate. The tar softens and forms a drop on the point of the filament, the crystals adhering to the surface of the drop. By regulating the distance from the plate the tar is slowly dried out and the button becomes solid. I then once more dip the button in tar and hold it again over a plate until the tar is evaporated, leaving only a hard mass which firmly binds the crystals. When a larger button is required I repeat the process several times, and I generally also cover the filament a certain distance below the button with crystals. The button being mounted in a bulb, when a good vacuum has been reached, first a weak and then a strong discharge is passed through the bulb to carbonize the tar and expel all gases, and later it is brought to a very intense incandescence.

When the powder is used I have found it best to proceed as follows: I make a thick paint of carborundum and tar, and pass a lamp filament through the paint. Taking then most of the paint off by rubbing the filament against a piece of chamois leather, I hold it over a hot plate until the tar evaporates and the coating becomes firm. I repeat this process as many times as it is necessary to obtain a certain thickness of coating. On the point of the coated filament I form a button in the same manner.

There is no doubt that such a button—properly prepared under great pressure—of carborundum, especially of powder of the best quality, will withstand the effect of the bombardment fully as well as anything we know. The difficulty is that the binding material gives way, and the carborundum is slowly thrown off after some time. As it does not seem to blacken the globe in the least, it might be found useful for coating the filaments of ordinary incandescent lamps, and I think that it is even possible to produce thin threads or sticks of carborundum which will replace the ordinary filaments in an incandescent lamp. A carborundum coating seems to be more durable than other coatings, not only because the carborundum can withstand high degrees of heat, but also because it seems to unite with the carbon better than any other material I have tried. A coating of zirconia or any other oxide, for instance, is far more quickly destroyed. I prepared buttons of diamond dust in the same manner as of carborundum, and these came in durability nearest to those prepared of carborundum, but the binding paste gave way much more quickly in the diamond buttons: this, however, I attributed to the size and irregularity of the grains of the diamond.

It was of interest to find whether carborundum possesses the quality of phosphorescence. One is, of course, prepared to encounter two difficulties: first, as regards the rough product, the "crystals," they are good conducting, and it is a fact that conductors do not phosphoresce; second, the powder, being exceedingly fine, would not be apt to exhibit very prominently this quality, since we know that when crystals, even such as diamond or ruby, are finely powdered, they lose the property of phosphorescence to a considerable degree.

The question presents itself here, can a conductor phosphoresce? What is there in such a body as a metal, for instance, that would deprive it of the quality of phosphorescence, unless it is that property which characterizes it as a conductor? for it is a fact that most of the phosphorescent bodies lose that quality when they are sufficiently heated to become more or less conducting. Then, if a metal be in a large measure, or perhaps entirely, deprived of that property, it should be capable of phosphorescence. Therefore it is quite possible that at some extremely high frequency, when behaving practically as a non-conductor, a metal or any other conductor might exhibit the quality of phosphorescence, even though it be entirely incapable of phosphorescing under the impact of a low-frequency discharge. There is, however, another possible way how a conductor might at least appear to phosphoresce.

Considerable doubt still exists as to what really is phosphorescence, and as to whether the various phenomena comprised under this head are due to the same causes. Suppose that in an exhausted bulb, under the molecular impact, the surface of a piece of metal or other conductor is rendered strongly luminous, but at the same time it is found that it remains comparatively cool, would not this luminosity be called phosphorescence? Now such a result, theoretically at least, is possible, for it is a mere question of potential or speed. Assume the potential of the electrode, and consequently the speed of the projected atoms, to be sufficiently high, the surface of the metal piece against which the atoms are projected would be rendered highly incandescent, since the process of heat generation would be incomparably faster than that of radiating or conducting away from the surface of the collision. In the eye of the observer a single impact of the atoms would cause an instantaneous flash, but if the impacts were repeated with sufficient rapidity they would produce a continuous impression upon his retina. To him then the surface of the metal would appear continuously incandescent and of constant luminous intensity, while in reality the light would be either intermittent or at least changing periodically in intensity. The metal piece would rise in temperature until equilibrium was attained—that is until the energy continuously radiated would equal that intermittently supplied. But the supplied energy might under such conditions not be sufficient to bring the body to any more than a very moderate mean temperature, especially if the frequency of the atomic impacts be very low—just enough that the fluctuation of the intensity of the light emitted could not be detected by the eye. The body would now, owing to the manner in which the energy is supplied, emit a strong light, and yet be at a comparatively very low mean temperature. How could the observer call the luminosity thus produced? Even if the analysis of the light would teach him something definite, still he would probably rank it under the phenomena of phosphorescence. It is conceivable that in such a way both conducting and non-conducting bodies may be maintained at a certain luminous intensity, but the energy required would very greatly vary with the nature and properties of the bodies.


These and some foregoing remarks of a speculative nature were made merely to bring out curious features of alternate currents or electric impulses. By their help we may cause a body to emit more light, while at a certain mean temperature, than it would emit if brought to that temperature by a steady supply; and, again, we may bring a body to the point of fusion, and cause it to emit less light than when fused by the application of energy in ordinary ways. It all depends on how we supply the energy, and what kind of vibrations we set up: in one case the vibrations are more, in the other less, adapted to affect our sense of vision.

Some effects, which I had not observed before, obtained with carborundum in the first trials, I attributed to phosphorescence, but in subsequent experiments it appeared that it was devoid of that quality. The crystals possess a noteworthy feature. In a bulb provided with a single electrode in the shape of a small circular metal disc, for instance, at a certain degree of exhaustion the electrode is covered with a milky film, which is separated by a dark space from the glow filling the bulb. When the metal disc is covered with carborundum crystals, the film is far more intense, and snow-white. This I found later to be merely an effect of the bright surface of the crystals, for when an aluminium electrode was highly polished it exhibited more or less the same phenomenon. I made a number of experiments with the samples of crystals obtained, principally because it would have been of special interest to find that they are capable of phosphorescence, on account of their being conducting. I could not produce phosphorescence distinctly, but I must remark that a decisive opinion cannot be formed until other experimenters have gone over the same ground.

The powder behaved in some experiments as though it contained alumina, but it did not exhibit with sufficient distinctness the red of the latter. Its dead color brightens considerably under the molecular impact, but I am now convinced it does not phosphoresce. Still, the tests with the powder are not conclusive, because powdered carborundum probably does not behave like a phosphorescent sulphide, for example, which could be finely powdered without impairing the phosphorescence, but rather like powdered ruby or diamond, and therefore it would be necessary, in order to make a decisive test, to obtain it in a large lump and polish up the surface.

If the carborundum proves useful in connection with these and similar experiments, its chief value will be found in the production of coatings, thin conductors, buttons, or other electrodes capable of withstanding extremely high degrees of heat.

The production of a small electrode capable of withstanding enormous temperatures I regard as of the greatest importance in the manufacture of light. It would enable us to obtain, by means of currents of very high frequencies, certainly 20 times, if not more, the quantity of light which is obtained in the present incandescent lamp by the same expenditure of energy. This estimate may appear to many exaggerated, but in reality I think it is far from being so. As this statement might be misunderstood I think it necessary to expose clearly the problem with which in this line of work we are confronted, and the manner in which, in my opinion, a solution will be arrived at.

Any one who begins a study of the problem will be apt to think that what is wanted in a lamp with an electrode is a very high degree of incandescence of the electrode. There he will be mistaken. The high incandescence of the button is a necessary evil, but what is really wanted is the high incandescence of the gas surrounding the button. In other words, the problem in such a lamp is to bring a mass of gas to the highest possible incandescence. The higher the incandescence, the quicker the mean vibration, the greater is the economy of the light production. But to maintain a mass of gas at a high degree of incandescence in a glass vessel, it will always be necessary to keep the incandescent mass away from the glass; that is, to confine it as much as possible to the central portion of the globe.

In one of the experiments this evening a brush was produced at the end of a wire. This brush was a flame, a source of heat and light. It did not emit much perceptible heat, nor did it glow with an intense light; but is it the less a flame because it does not scorch my hand? Is it the less a flame because it does not hurt my eye by its brilliancy? The problem is precisely to produce in the bulb such a flame, much smaller in size, but incomparably more powerful. Were there means at hand for producing electric impulses of a sufficiently high frequency, and for transmitting them, the bulb could be done away with, unless it were used to protect the electrode, or to economize the energy by confining the heat. But as such means are not at disposal, it becomes necessary to place the terminal in a bulb and rarefy the air in the same. This is done merely to enable the apparatus to perform the work which it is not capable of performing at ordinary air pressure. In the bulb we are able to intensify the action to any degree—so far that the brush emits a powerful light. The intensity of the light emitted depends principally on the frequency and potential of the impulses, and on the electric density of the surface of the electrode. It is of the greatest importance to employ the smallest possible button, in order to push the density very far. Under the violent impact of the molecules of the gas surrounding it, the small electrode is of course brought to an extremely high temperature, but around it is a mass of highly incandescent gas, a flame photosphere, many hundred times the volume of the electrode. With a diamond, carborundum or zirconia button the photosphere can be as much as one thousand times the volume of the button. Without much reflecting one would think that in pushing so far the incandescence of the electrode it would be instantly volatilized. But after a careful consideration he would find that, theoretically, it should not occur, and in this fact—which, however, is experimentally demonstrated—lies principally the future value of such a lamp.