Why Nikola Tesla's greatest achievement may be in Niagara Falls
Inventor Nikola Tesla's work at Niagara Falls may be his most direct and lasting contribution to our lives.
Some brilliant people among us are able to see what the ordinary eyes and minds cannot. When inventor Nikola Tesla thought of the Niagara Falls, he saw it not just as a stunning display of nature’s might and majesty but as a way to create energy for human endeavors. In 1895, Tesla and industrialist George Westinghouse created the world’s first hydroelectric power plant at the Niagara Falls, beating out Tesla’s rival Thomas Edison and changing the way we look at such powerful natural forces.
Caught up in what was dubbed by the press “the War of the Currents,” Tesla and Edison were competing against each other’s system of transmitting electricity. Tesla’s was called “alternating current” (AC) while Edison invented the “direct current” (DC). The “war” involved public competitions and demonstrations of the technology, trying to assuage concerns over commercial applications and safety. The AC system used a transformer that was able to regulate voltage in different situations like long-distance transmissions or indoor lighting and proved to be more efficient and less expensive.
As part of this competition, Tesla and Edison were involved in the proposals to develop a plant at the Niagara Falls. They were both considered in the 1893 contest organized by the international Niagara Falls Commission, but the pitch based on Tesla’s approach that was submitted by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company was awarded the contract. Led by the famous British physicist Lord Kelvin, the commission thought that the AC-based system proposed by Tesla via Westinghouse was a stronger bet than the scheme blessed by Edison, which utilized DC electricity. Kelvin was convinced of the superiority of Tesla’s approach during his visit to the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, which was powered by Tesla’s polyphase AC system, again under a deal with Westinghouse. It was also doubtful that Edison’s direct current system could be transmitted over long distances.
Workmen putting Edison DC power lines underground in New York City in 1882. This was an expensive practice that helped Edison in public perceptions following a few deaths that were caused by overhead high voltage AC lines. Credit: W. P. Snyder - June 21, 1882 Harper's Weekly.
For Tesla, being involved in the Niagara Falls project was a lifelong dream. In his biography, Tesla remembered how the giant falls excited his mind as a kid. As he was playing with some mechanical models from his instructors, he considered the idea of water turbines. Hearing Niagara Falls described, Tesla “pictured in my imagination a big wheel run by the Falls.” He even told his uncle that someday he would “go to America and carry out this scheme.”
Tesla’s childhood dream came true but it took some doing. The construction of the power plant at Niagara Falls involved other famous backers, like J. P. Morgan, John Jacob Astor, Lord Rothschild, and W. K. Vanderbilt. The project took several years to put together, during which concerns that it would not work and financial difficulties threatened to derail the enterprise. Tesla himself didn’t visit the plant until it was finished, being too busy with other projects and the aftermath of the burning of his New York City laboratory, a scientific tragedy which took up months of his life in efforts to restore what was lost.
Tesla generators inside the Niagara Power plant. ca. 1895.
Once completed, Tesla’s generators produced 50,000 horsepower, a tremendous amount of power for that time. Finally, on November 16th, 1896, the switch was thrown, sending power to Buffalo, NY. The Niagara Falls Gazette reported that "The turning of a switch in the big powerhouse at Niagara completed a circuit which caused the Niagara River to flow uphill."
Tesla’s own words at the opening of the Niagara Falls hydroelectric power station considered their achievement from a historical perspective, calling the station “a monument worthy of our scientific age”:
“We have many a monument of past ages; we have the palaces and pyramids, the temples of the Greek and the cathedrals of Christendom,” said Tesla. “In them is exemplified the power of men, the greatness of nations, the love of art and religious devotion. But the monument at Niagara has something of its own, more in accord with our present thoughts and tendencies. It is a monument worthy of our scientific age, a true monument of enlightenment and of peace. It signifies the subjugation of natural forces to the service of man, the discontinuance of barbarous methods, the relieving of millions from want and suffering.”
How does the plant actually generate electricity? As historian David J. Kent writes, to tap into the kinetic energy generated by the rushing Niagara, some of the water going over the Falls was sent through a long tunnel where it turned a series of turbines, which converted energy into mechanical energy that created electricity.
One of the reactors designed by Tesla. ca. 1890s.
In a few years following the opening of the plant, its electricity was ordered by thousands of residents and businesses, with the number of generators increasing to ten. The power then flowed to New York City, electrifying Broadway, street railways, and subways. Other power stations were also built on the Niagara and elsewhere in the U.S. By 1920, hydroelectric plants provided 25% of all electricity in the U.S.
Suffice it to say, no die-hard Tesla fan’s life would be complete without a visit to the Niagara Falls. Here’s a monument that honors Tesla’s contribution that looks over the falls now:
Tesla's monument overlooking the Niagara Falls. Credit: Duncan Rawlinson
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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