Experiments with Alternate Currents of High Potential and High - Frequency
by Nikola Tesla
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Many bulbs were constructed on the plan illustrated in Fig. 29. Here a small bulb b, containing the refractory button m, upon being exhausted to a very high degree was sealed in a large globe L, which was then moderately exhausted and sealed off. The principal advantage of this construction was that it allowed of reaching extremely high vacua, and, at the same time use a large bulb. It was found, in the course of experiences with bulbs such as illustrated in Fig. 29, that it was well to make the stem s near the seal at e very thick, and the leading-in wire w thin, as it occurred sometimes that the stem at e was heated and the bulb was cracked. Often the outer globe L was exhausted only just enough to allow the discharge to pass through, and the space between the bulbs appeared crimson, producing a curious effect. In some cases, when the exhaustion in globe L was very low, and the air good conducting, it was found necessary, in order to bring the button m to high incandescence, to place, preferably on the upper part of the neck of the globe, a tinfoil coating which was connected to an insulated body, to the ground, or to the other terminal of the coil, as the highly conducting air weakened the effect somewhat, probably by being acted upon inductively from the wire w, where it entered the bulb at e. Another difficulty—which, however, is always present when the refractory button is mounted in a very small bulb—existed in the construction illustrated in Fig. 29, namely, the vacuum in the bulb b would be impaired in a comparatively short time.

The chief idea in the two last described constructions was to confine the heat to the central portion of the globe by preventing the exchange of air. An advantage is secured, but owing to the heating of the inside bulb and slow evaporation of the glass the vacuum is hard to maintain, even if the construction illustrated in Fig. 28 be chosen, in which both bulbs communicate.

But by far the better way—the ideal way—would be to reach sufficiently high frequencies. The higher the frequency the slower would be the exchange of the air, and I think that a frequency may be reached at which there would be no exchange whatever of the air molecules around the terminal. We would then produce a flame in which there would be no carrying away of material, and a queer flame it would be, for it would be rigid! With such high frequencies the inertia of the particles would come into play. As the brush, or flame, would gain rigidity in virtue of the inertia of the particles, the exchange of the latter would be prevented. This would necessarily occur, for, the number of the impulses being augmented, the potential energy of each would diminish, so that finally only atomic vibrations could be set up, and the motion of translation through measurable space would cease. Thus an ordinary gas burner connected to a source of rapidly alternating potential might have its efficiency augmented to a certain limit, and this for two reasons—because of the additional vibration imparted, and because of a slowing down of the process of carrying off. But the renewal being rendered difficult, and renewal being necessary to maintain the burner, a continued increase of the frequency of the impulses, assuming they could be transmitted to and impressed upon the flame, would result in the "extinction" of the latter, meaning by this term only the cessation of the chemical process.

I think, however, that in the case of an electrode immersed in a fluid insulating medium, and surrounded by independent carriers of electric charges, which can be acted upon inductively, a sufficiently high frequency of the impulses would probably result in a gravitation of the gas all around toward the electrode. For this it would be only necessary to assume that the independent bodies are irregularly shaped; they would then turn toward the electrode their side of the greatest electric density, and this would be a position in which the fluid resistance to approach would be smaller than that offered to the receding.

The general opinion, I do not doubt, is that it is out of the question to reach any such frequencies as might—assuming some of the views before expressed to be true—produce any of the results which I have pointed out as mere possibilities. This may be so, but in the course of these investigations, from the observation of many phenomena I have gained the conviction that these frequencies would be much lower than one is apt to estimate at first. In a flame we set up light vibrations by causing molecules, or atoms, to collide. But what is the ratio of the frequency of the collisions and that of the vibrations set up? Certainly it must be incomparably smaller than that of the knocks of the bell and the sound vibrations, or that of the discharges and the oscillations of the condenser. We may cause the molecules of the gas to collide by the use of alternate electric impulses of high frequency, and so we may imitate the process in a flame; and from experiments with frequencies which we are now able to obtain, I think that the result is producible with impulses which are transmissible through a conductor.

In connection with thoughts of a similar nature, it appeared to me of great interest to demonstrate the rigidity of a vibrating gaseous column. Although with such low frequencies as, say 10,000 per second, which I was able to obtain without difficulty from a specially constructed alternator, the task looked discouraging at first, I made a series of experiments. The trials with air at ordinary pressure led to no result, but with air moderately rarefied I obtain what I think to be an unmistakable experimental evidence of the property sought for. As a result of this kind might lead able investigators to conclusions of importance I will describe one of the experiments performed.

It is well known that when a tube is slightly exhausted the discharge may be passed through it in the form of a thin luminous thread. When produced with currents of low frequency, obtained from a coil operated as usual, this thread is inert. If a magnet be approached to it, the part near the same is attracted or repelled, according to the direction of the lines of force of the magnet. It occurred to me that if such a thread would be produced with currents of very high frequency, it should be more or less rigid, and as it was visible it could be easily studied. Accordingly I prepared a tube about 1 inch in diameter and 1 metre long, with outside coating at each end. The tube was exhausted to a point at which by a little working the thread discharge could be obtained. It must be remarked here that the general aspect of the tube, and the degree of exhaustion, are quite different than when ordinary low frequency currents are used. As it was found preferable to work with one terminal, the tube prepared was suspended from the end of a wire connected to the terminal, the tinfoil coating being connected to the wire, and to the lower coating sometimes a small insulated plate was attached. When the thread was formed it extended through the upper part of the tube and lost itself in the lower end. If it possessed rigidity it resembled, not exactly an elastic cord stretched tight between two supports, but a cord suspended from a height with a small weight attached at the end. When the finger or a magnet was approached to the upper end of the luminous thread, it could be brought locally out of position by electrostatic or magnetic action; and when the disturbing object was very quickly removed, an analogous result was produced, as though a suspended cord would be displaced and quickly released near the point of suspension. In doing this the luminous thread was set in vibration, and two very sharply marked nodes, and a third indistinct one, were formed. The vibration, once set up, continued for fully eight minutes, dying gradually out. The speed of the vibration often varied perceptibly, and it could be observed that the electrostatic attraction of the glass affected the vibrating thread; but it was clear that the electrostatic action was not the cause of the vibration, for the thread was most generally stationary, and could always be set in vibration by passing the finger quickly near the upper part of the tube. With a magnet the thread could be split in two and both parts vibrated. By approaching the hand to the lower coating of the tube, or insulated plate if attached, the vibration was quickened; also, as far as I could see, by raising the potential or frequency. Thus, either increasing the frequency or passing a stronger discharge of the same frequency corresponded to a tightening of the cord. I did not obtain any experimental evidence with condenser discharges. A luminous band excited in a bulb by repeated discharges of a Leyden jar must possess rigidity, and if deformed and suddenly released should vibrate. But probably the amount of vibrating matter is so small that in spite of the extreme speed the inertia cannot prominently assert itself. Besides, the observation in such a case is rendered extremely difficult on account of the fundamental vibration.

The demonstration of the fact—which still needs better experimental confirmation—that a vibrating gaseous column possesses rigidity, might greatly modify the views of thinkers. When with low frequencies and insignificant potentials indications of that property may be noted, how must a gaseous medium behave under the influence of enormous electrostatic stresses which may be active in the interstellar space, and which may alternate with inconceivable rapidity? The existence of such an electrostatic, rhythmically throbbing force—of a vibrating electrostatic field—would show a possible way how solids might have formed from the ultra-gaseous uterus, and how transverse and all kinds of vibrations may be transmitted through a gaseous medium filling all space. Then, ether might be a true fluid, devoid of rigidity, and at rest, it being merely necessary as a connecting link to enable interaction. What determines the rigidity of a body? It must be the speed and the amount of moving matter. In a gas the speed may be considerable, but the density is exceedingly small; in a liquid the speed would be likely to be small, though the density may be considerable; and in both cases the inertia resistance offered to displacement is practically nil. But place a gaseous (or liquid) column in an intense, rapidly alternating electrostatic field, set the particles vibrating with enormous speeds, then the inertia resistance asserts itself. A body might move with more or less freedom through the vibrating mass, but as a whole it would be rigid.

There is a subject which I must mention in connection with these experiments: it is that of high vacua. This is a subject the study of which is not only interesting, but useful, for it may lead to results of great practical importance. In commercial apparatus, such as incandescent lamps, operated from ordinary systems of distribution, a much higher vacuum than obtained at present would not secure a very great advantage. In such a case the work is performed on the filament and the gas is little concerned; the improvement, therefore, would be but trifling. But when we begin to use very high frequencies and potentials, the action of the gas becomes all important, and the degree of exhaustion materially modifies the results. As long as ordinary coils, even very large ones, were used, the study of the subject was limited, because just at a point when it became most interesting it had to be interrupted on account of the "non-striking" vacuum being reached. But presently we are able to obtain from a small disruptive discharge coil potentials much higher than even the largest coil was capable of giving, and, what is more, we can make the potential alternate with great rapidity. Both of these results enable us now to pass a luminous discharge through almost any vacua obtainable, and the field of our investigations is greatly extended. Think we as we may, of all the possible directions to develop a practical illuminant, the line of high vacua seems to be the most promising at present. But to reach extreme vacua the appliances must be much more improved, and ultimate perfection will not be attained until we shall have discarded the mechanical and perfected an electrical vacuum pump. Molecules and atoms can be thrown out of a bulb under the action of an enormous potential: this will be the principle of the vacuum pump of the future. For the present, we must secure the best results we can with mechanical appliances. In this respect, it might not be out of the way to say a few words about the method of, and apparatus for, producing excessively high degrees of exhaustion of which I have availed myself in the course of these investigations. It is very probable that other experimenters have used similar arrangements; but as it is possible that there may be an item of interest in their description, a few remarks, which will render this investigation more complete, might be permitted.

The apparatus is illustrated in a drawing shown in Fig. 30. S represents a Sprengel pump, which has been specially constructed to better suit the work required. The stop-cock which is usually employed has been omitted, and instead of it a hollow stopper s has been fitted in the neck of the reservoir R. This stopper has a small hole h, through which the mercury descends; the size of the outlet o being properly determined with respect to the section of the fall tube t, which is sealed to the reservoir instead of being connected to it in the usual manner. This arrangement overcomes the imperfections and troubles which often arise from the use of the stopcock on the reservoir and the connection of the latter with the fall tube.

The pump is connected through a U-shaped tube t to a very large reservoir R_1. Especial care was taken in fitting the grinding surfaces of the stoppers p and p_1, and both of these and the mercury caps above them were made exceptionally long. After the U-shaped tube was fitted and put in place, it was heated, so as to soften and take off the strain resulting from imperfect fitting. The U-shaped tube was provided with a stopcock C, and two ground connections g and g_1—one for a small bulb b, usually containing caustic potash, and the other for the receiver r, to be exhausted.

The reservoir R1 was connected by means of a rubber tube to a slightly larger reservoir R2, each of the two reservoirs being provided with a stopcock C1 and C2, respectively. The reservoir R2 could be raised and lowered by a wheel and rack, and the range of its motion was so determined that when it was filled with mercury and the stopcock C2 closed, so as to form a Torricellian vacuum in it when raised, it could be lifted so high that the mercury in reservoir R1 would stand a little above stopcock C1; and when this stopcock was closed and the reservoir R2 descended, so as to form a Torricellian vacuum in reservoir R1, it could be lowered so far as to completely empty the latter, the mercury filling the reservoir R2 up to a little above stopcock C2.

The capacity of the pump and of the connections was taken as small as possible relatively to the volume of reservoir R_1, since, of course, the degree of exhaustion depended upon the ratio of these quantities.

With this apparatus I combined the usual means indicated by former experiments for the production of very high vacua. In most of the experiments it was convenient to use caustic potash. I may venture to say, in regard to its use, that much time is saved and a more perfect action of the pump insured by fusing and boiling the potash as soon as, or even before, the pump settles down. If this course is not followed the sticks, as ordinarily employed, may give moisture off at a certain very slow rate, and the pump may work for many hours without reaching a very high vacuum. The potash was heated either by a spirit lamp or by passing a discharge through it, or by passing a current through a wire contained in it. The advantage in the latter case was that the heating could be more rapidly repeated.

Generally the process of exhaustion was the following:—At the start, the stop-cocks C and C_1 being open, and all other connections closed, the reservoir R_2 was raised so far that the mercury filled the reservoir R_1 and a part of the narrow connecting U-shaped tube. When the pump was set to work, the mercury would, of course, quickly rise in the tube, and reservoir R_2 was lowered, the experimenter keeping the mercury at about the same level. The reservoir R_2 was balanced by a long spring which facilitated the operation, and the friction of the parts was generally sufficient to keep it almost in any position. When the Sprengel pump had done its work, the reservoir R_2 was further lowered and the mercury descended in R_1 and filled R_2, whereupon stopcock C_2 was closed. The air adhering to the walls of R_1 and that absorbed by the mercury was carried off, and to free the mercury of all air the reservoir R_2 was for a long time worked up and down. During this process some air, which would gather below stopcock C_2, was expelled from R_2 by lowering it far enough and opening the stopcock, closing the latter again before raising the reservoir. When all the air had been expelled from the mercury, and no air would gather in R_2 when it was lowered, the caustic potash was resorted to. The reservoir R_2 was now again raised until the mercury in R_1 stood above stopcock C_1. The caustic potash was fused and boiled, and the moisture partly carried off by the pump and partly re-absorbed; and this process of heating and cooling was repeated many times, and each time, upon the moisture being absorbed or carried off, the reservoir R_2 was for a long time raised and lowered. In this manner all the moisture was carried off from the mercury, and both the reservoirs were in proper condition to be used. The reservoir R_2 was then again raised to the top, and the pump was kept working for a long time. When the highest vacuum obtainable with the pump had been reached the potash bulb was usually wrapped with cotton which was sprinkled with ether so as to keep the potash at a very low temperature, then the reservoir R_2 was lowered, and upon reservoir R_1 being emptied the receiver r was quickly sealed up.

When a new bulb was put on, the mercury was always raised above stopcock C1 which was closed, so as to always keep the mercury and both the reservoirs in fine condition, and the mercury was never withdrawn from R1 except when the pump had reached the highest degree of exhaustion. It is necessary to observe this rule if it is desired to use the apparatus to advantage.

By means of this arrangement I was able to proceed very quickly, and when the apparatus was in perfect order it was possible to reach the phosphorescent stage in a small bulb in less than 15 minutes, which is certainly very quick work for a small laboratory arrangement requiring all in all about 100 pounds of mercury. With ordinary small bulbs the ratio of the capacity of the pump, receiver, and connections, and that of reservoir R was about 1-20, and the degrees of exhaustion reached were necessarily very high, though I am unable to make a precise and reliable statement how far the exhaustion was carried.

What impresses the investigator most in the course of these experiences is the behavior of gases when subjected to great rapidly alternating electrostatic stresses. But he must remain in doubt as to whether the effects observed are due wholly to the molecules, or atoms, of the gas which chemical analysis discloses to us, or whether there enters into play another medium of a gaseous nature, comprising atoms, or molecules, immersed in a fluid pervading the space. Such a medium surely must exist, and I am convinced that, for instance, even if air were absent, the surface and neighborhood of a body in space would be heated by rapidly alternating the potential of the body; but no such heating of the surface or neighborhood could occur if all free atoms were removed and only a homogeneous, incompressible, and elastic fluid—such as ether is supposed to be—would remain, for then there would be no impacts, no collisions. In such a case, as far as the body itself is concerned, only frictional losses in the inside could occur.

It is a striking fact that the discharge through a gas is established with ever increasing freedom as the frequency of the impulses is augmented. It behaves in this respect quite contrarily to a metallic conductor. In the latter the impedance enters prominently into play as the frequency is increased, but the gas acts much as a series of condensers would: the facility with which the discharge passes through seems to depend on the rate of change of potential. If it act so, then in a vacuum tube even of great length, and no matter how strong the current, self-induction could not assert itself to any appreciable degree. We have, then, as far as we can now see, in the gas a conductor which is capable of transmitting electric impulses of any frequency which we may be able to produce. Could the frequency be brought high enough, then a queer system of electric distribution, which would be likely to interest gas companies, might be realized: metal pipes filled with gas—the metal being the insulator, the gas the conductor—supplying phosphorescent bulbs, or perhaps devices as yet uninvented. It is certainly possible to take a hollow core of copper, rarefy the gas in the same, and by passing impulses of sufficiently high frequency through a circuit around it, bring the gas inside to a high degree of incandescence; but as to the nature of the forces there would be considerable uncertainty, for it would be doubtful whether with such impulses the copper core would act as a static screen. Such paradoxes and apparent impossibilities we encounter at every step in this line of work, and therein lies, to a great extent, the claim of the study.

I have here a short and wide tube which is exhausted to a high degree and covered with a substantial coating of bronze, the coating allowing barely the light to shine through. A metallic clasp, with a hook for suspending the tube, is fastened around the middle portion of the latter, the clasp being in contact with the bronze coating. I now want to light the gas inside by suspending the tube on a wire connected to the coil. Any one who would try the experiment for the first time, not having any previous experience, would probably take care to be quite alone when making the trial, for fear that he might become the joke of his assistants. Still, the bulb lights in spite of the metal coating, and the light can be distinctly perceived through the latter. A long tube covered with aluminium bronze lights when held in one hand—the other touching the terminal of the coil—quite powerfully. It might be objected that the coatings are not sufficiently conducting; still, even if they were highly resistant, they ought to screen the gas. They certainly screen it perfectly in a condition of rest, but not by far perfectly when the charge is surging in the coating. But the loss of energy which occurs within the tube, notwithstanding the screen, is occasioned principally by the presence of the gas. Were we to take a large hollow metallic sphere and fill it with a perfect incompressible fluid dielectric, there would be no loss inside of the sphere, and consequently the inside might be considered as perfectly screened, though the potential be very rapidly alternating. Even were the sphere filled with oil, the loss would be incomparably smaller than when the fluid is replaced by a gas, for in the latter case the force produces displacements; that means impact and collisions in the inside.

No matter what the pressure of the gas may be, it becomes an important factor in the heating of a conductor when the electric density is great and the frequency very high. That in the heating of conductors by lightning discharges air is an element of great importance, is almost as certain as an experimental fact. I may illustrate the action of the air by the following experiment: I take a short tube which is exhausted to a moderate degree and has a platinum wire running through the middle from one end to the other. I pass a steady or low frequency current through the wire, and it is heated uniformly in all parts. The heating here is due to conduction, or frictional losses, and the gas around the wire has—as far as we can see—no function to perform. But now let me pass sudden discharges, or a high frequency current, through the wire. Again the wire is heated, this time principally on the ends and least in the middle portion; and if the frequency of the impulses, or the rate of change, is high enough, the wire might as well be cut in the middle as not, for practically all the heating is due to the rarefied gas. Here the gas might only act as a conductor of no impedance diverting the current from the wire as the impedance of the latter is enormously increased, and merely heating the ends of the wire by reason of their resistance to the passage of the discharge. But it is not at all necessary that the gas in the tube should he conducting; it might be at an extremely low pressure, still the ends of the wire would be heated—as, however, is ascertained by experience—only the two ends would in such, case not be electrically connected through the gaseous medium. Now what with these frequencies and potentials occurs in an exhausted tube occurs in the lightning discharges at ordinary pressure. We only need remember one of the facts arrived at in the course of these investigations, namely, that to impulses of very high frequency the gas at ordinary pressure behaves much in the same manner as though it were at moderately low pressure. I think that in lightning discharges frequently wires or conducting objects are volatilized merely because air is present and that, were the conductor immersed in an insulating liquid, it would be safe, for then the energy would have to spend itself somewhere else. From the behavior of gases to sudden impulses of high potential I am led to conclude that there can be no surer way of diverting a lightning discharge than by affording it a passage through a volume of gas, if such a thing can be done in a practical manner.

There are two more features upon which I think it necessary to dwell in connection with these experiments—the "radiant state" and the "non-striking vacuum."

Any one who has studied Crookes' work must have received the impression that the "radiant state" is a property of the gas inseparably connected with an extremely high degree of exhaustion. But it should be remembered that the phenomena observed in an exhausted vessel are limited to the character and capacity of the apparatus which is made use of. I think that in a bulb a molecule, or atom, does not precisely move in a straight line because it meets no obstacle, but because the velocity imparted to it is sufficient to propel it in a sensibly straight line. The mean free path is one thing, but the velocity—the energy associated with the moving body—is another, and under ordinary circumstances I believe that it is a mere question of potential or speed. A disruptive discharge coil, when the potential is pushed very far, excites phosphorescence and projects shadows, at comparatively low degrees of exhaustion. In a lightning discharge, matter moves in straight lines as ordinary pressure when the mean free path is exceedingly small, and frequently images of wires or other metallic objects have been produced by the particles thrown off in straight lines.

I have prepared a bulb to illustrate by an experiment the correctness of these assertions. In a globe L (Fig. 31) I have mounted upon a lamp filament f a piece of lime l. The lamp filament is connected with a wire which leads into the bulb, and the general construction of the latter is as indicated in Fig. 19, before described. The bulb being suspended from a wire connected to the terminal of the coil, and the latter being set to work, the lime piece l and the projecting parts of the filament f are bombarded. The degree of exhaustion is just such that with the potential the coil is capable of giving phosphorescence of the glass is produced, but disappears as soon as the vacuum is impaired. The lime containing moisture, and moisture being given off as soon as heating occurs, the phosphorescence lasts only for a few moments. When the lime has been sufficiently heated, enough moisture has been given off to impair materially the vacuum of the bulb. As the bombardment goes on, one point of the lime piece is more heated than other points, and the result is that finally practically all the discharge passes through that point which is intensely heated, and a white stream of lime particles (Fig. 31) then breaks forth from that point. This stream is composed of "radiant" matter, yet the degree of exhaustion is low. But the particles move in straight lines because the velocity imparted to them is great, and this is due to three causes—to the great electric density, the high temperature of the small point, and the fact that the particles of the lime are easily torn and thrown off—far more easily than those of carbon. With frequencies such as we are able to obtain, the particles are bodily thrown off and projected to a considerable distance; but with sufficiently high frequencies no such thing would occur: in such case only a stress would spread or a vibration would be propagated through the bulb. It would be out of the question to reach any such frequency on the assumption that the atoms move with the speed of light; but I believe that such a thing is impossible; for this an enormous potential would be required. With potentials which we are able to obtain, even with a disruptive discharge coil, the speed must be quite insignificant.

As to the "non-striking vacuum," the point to be noted is that it can occur only with low frequency impulses, and it is necessitated by the impossibility of carrying off enough energy with such impulses in high vacuum since the few atoms which are around the terminal upon coming in contact with the same are repelled and kept at a distance for a comparatively long period of time, and not enough work can be performed to render the effect perceptible to the eye. If the difference of potential between the terminals is raised, the dielectric breaks down. But with very high frequency impulses there is no necessity for such breaking down, since any amount of work can be performed by continually agitating the atoms in the exhausted vessel, provided the frequency is high enough. It is easy to reach—even with frequencies obtained from an alternator as here used—a stage at which the discharge does not pass between two electrodes in a narrow tube, each of these being connected to one of the terminals of the coil, but it is difficult to reach a point at which a luminous discharge would not occur around each electrode.

A thought which naturally presents itself in connection with high frequency currents, is to make use of their powerful electro-dynamic inductive action to produce light effects in a sealed glass globe. The leading-in wire is one of the defects of the present incandescent lamp, and if no other improvement were made, that imperfection at least should be done away with. Following this thought, I have carried on experiments in various directions, of which some were indicated in my former paper. I may here mention one or two more lines of experiment which have been followed up.

Many bulbs were constructed as shown in Fig. 32 and Fig. 33.

In Fig. 32 a wide tube T was sealed to a smaller W-shaped tube U, of phosphorescent glass. In the tube T was placed a coil C of aluminium wire, the ends of which were provided with small spheres t and t_1 of aluminium, and reached into the U tube. The tube T was slipped into a socket containing a primary coil through which usually the discharges of Leyden jars were directed, and the rarefied gas in the small U tube was excited to strong luminosity by the high-tension currents induced in the coil C. When Leyden jar discharges were used to induce currents in the coil C, it was found necessary to pack the tube T tightly with insulating powder, as a discharge would occur frequently between the turns of the coil, especially when the primary was thick and the air gap, through which the jars discharged, large, and no little trouble was experienced in this way.

In Fig. 33 is illustrated another form of the bulb constructed. In this case a tube T is sealed to a globe L. The tube contains a coil C, the ends of which pass through two small glass tubes t and t_1, which are sealed to the tube T. Two refractory buttons m and m_1 are mounted on lamp filaments which are fastened to the ends of the wires passing through the glass tubes t and t_1. Generally in bulbs made on this plan the globe L communicated with the tube T. For this purpose the ends of the small tubes t and t_1 were just a trifle heated in the burner, merely to hold the wires, but not to interfere with the communication. The tube T, with the small tubes, wires through the same, and the refractory buttons m and m_1, was first prepared, and then sealed to globe L, whereupon the coil C was slipped in and the connections made to its ends. The tube was then packed with insulating powder, jamming the latter as tight as possible up to very nearly the end, then it was closed and only a small hole left through which the remainder of the powder was introduced, and finally the end of the tube was closed. Usually in bulbs constructed as shown in Fig. 33 an aluminium tube a was fastened to the upper end s of each of the tubes t and t_1, in order to protect that end against the heat. The buttons m and m_1 could be brought to any degree of incandescence by passing the discharges of Leyden jars around the coil C. In such bulbs with two buttons a very curious effect is produced by the formation of the shadows of each of the two buttons.

Another line of experiment, which has been assiduously followed, was to induce by electro-dynamic induction a current or luminous discharge in an exhausted tube or bulb. This matter has received such able treatment at the hands of Prof. J.J. Thomson that I could add but little to what he has made known, even had I made it the special subject of this lecture. Still, since experiences in this line have gradually led me to the present views and results, a few words must be devoted here to this subject.

It has occurred, no doubt, to many that as a vacuum tube is made longer the electromotive force per unit length of the tube, necessary to pass a luminous discharge through the latter, gets continually smaller; therefore, if the exhausted tube be made long enough, even with low frequencies a luminous discharge could be induced in such a tube closed upon itself. Such a tube might be placed around a ball or on a ceiling, and at once a simple appliance capable of giving considerable light would be obtained. But this would be an appliance hard to manufacture and extremely unmanageable. It would not do to make the tube up of small lengths, because there would be with ordinary frequencies considerable loss in the coatings, and besides, if coatings were used, it would be better to supply the current directly to the tube by connecting the coatings to a transformer. But even if all objections of such nature were removed, still, with low frequencies the light conversion itself would be inefficient, as I have before stated. In using extremely high frequencies the length of the secondary—in other words, the size of the vessel—can be reduced as far as desired, and the efficiency of the light conversion is increased, provided that means are invented for efficiently obtaining such high frequencies. Thus one is led, from theoretical and practical considerations, to the use of high frequencies, and this means high electromotive forces and small currents in the primary. When he works with condenser charges—and they are the only means up to the present known for reaching these extreme frequencies—he gets to electromotive forces of several thousands of volts per turn of the primary. He cannot multiply the electro-dynamic inductive effect by taking more turns in the primary, for he arrives at the conclusion that the best way is to work with one single turn—though he must sometimes depart from this rule—and he must get along with whatever inductive effect he can obtain with one turn. But before he has long experimented with the extreme frequencies required to set up in a small bulb an electromotive force of several thousands of volts he realizes the great importance of electrostatic effects, and these effects grow relatively to the electro-dynamic in significance as the frequency is increased.

Now, if anything is desirable in this case, it is to increase the frequency, and this would make it still worse for the electro-dynamic effects. On the other hand, it is easy to exalt the electrostatic action as far as one likes by taking more turns on the secondary, or combining self-induction and capacity to raise the potential. It should also be remembered that, in reducing the current to the smallest value and increasing the potential, the electric impulses of high frequency can be more easily transmitted through a conductor.

These and similar thoughts determined me to devote more attention to the electrostatic phenomena, and to endeavor to produce potentials as high as possible, and alternating as fast as they could be made to alternate. I then found that I could excite vacuum tubes at considerable distance from a conductor connected to a properly constructed coil, and that I could, by converting the oscillatory current of a condenser to a higher potential, establish electrostatic alternating fields which acted through the whole extent of a room, lighting up a tube no matter where it was held in space. I thought I recognized that I had made a step in advance, and I have persevered in this line; but I wish to say that I share with all lovers of science and progress the one and only desire—to reach a result of utility to men in any direction to which thought or experiment may lead me. I think that this departure is the right one, for I cannot see, from the observation of the phenomena which manifest themselves as the frequency is increased, what there would remain to act between two circuits conveying, for instance, impulses of several hundred millions per second, except electrostatic forces. Even with such trifling frequencies the energy would be practically all potential, and my conviction has grown strong that, to whatever kind of motion light may be due, it is produced by tremendous electrostatic stresses vibrating with extreme rapidity.

Of all these phenomena observed with currents, or electric impulses, of high frequency, the most fascinating for an audience are certainly those which are noted in an electrostatic field acting through considerable distance, and the best an unskilled lecturer can do is to begin and finish with the exhibition of these singular effects. I take a tube in the hand and move it about, and it is lighted wherever I may hold it; throughout space the invisible forces act. But I may take another tube and it might not light, the vacuum being very high. I excite it by means of a disruptive discharge coil, and now it will light in the electrostatic field. I may put it away for a few weeks or months, still it retains the faculty of being excited. What change have I produced in the tube in the act of exciting it? If a motion imparted to the atoms, it is difficult to perceive how it can persist so long without being arrested by frictional losses; and if a strain exerted in the dielectric, such as a simple electrification would produce, it is easy to see how it may persist indefinitely, but very difficult to understand why such a condition should aid the excitation when we have to deal with potentials which are rapidly alternating.

Since I have exhibited these phenomena for the first time, I have obtained some other interesting effects. For instance, I have produced the incandescence of a button, filament, or wire enclosed in a tube. To get to this result it was necessary to economize the energy which is obtained from the field and direct most of it on the small body to be rendered incandescent. At the beginning the task appeared difficult, but the experiences gathered permitted me to reach the result easily. In Fig. 34 and Fig. 35 two such tubes are illustrated which are prepared for the occasion. In Fig. 34 a short tube T_1, sealed to another long tube T, is provided with a stem s, with a platinum wire sealed in the latter. A very thin lamp filament l is fastened to this wire, and connection to the outside is made through a thin copper wire w. The tube is provided with outside and inside coatings, C and C_1 respectively, and is filled as far as the coatings reach with conducting, and the space above with insulating powder. These coatings are merely used to enable me to perform two experiments with the tube—namely, to produce the effect desired either by direct connection of the body of the experimenter or of another body to the wire w, or by acting inductively through the glass. The stem s is provided with an aluminium tube a, for purposes before explained, and only a small part of the filament reaches out of this tube. By holding the tube T_1 anywhere in the electrostatic field the filament is rendered incandescent.

A more interesting piece of apparatus is illustrated in Fig. 35. The construction is the same as before, only instead of the lamp filament a small platinum wire p, sealed in a stem s, and bent above it in a circle, is connected to the copper wire w, which is joined to an inside coating C. A small stem s_1 is provided with a needle, on the point of which is arranged to rotate very freely a very light fan of mica v. To prevent the fan from falling out, a thin stem of glass g is bent properly and fastened to the aluminium tube. When the glass tube is held anywhere in the electrostatic field the platinum wire becomes incandescent, and the mica vanes are rotated very fast.

Intense phosphorescence may be excited in a bulb by merely connecting it to a plate within the field, and the plate need not be any larger than an ordinary lamp shade. The phosphorescence excited with these currents is incomparably more powerful than with ordinary apparatus. A small phosphorescent bulb, when attached to a wire connected to a coil, emits sufficient light to allow reading ordinary print at a distance of five to six paces. It was of interest to see how some of the phosphorescent bulbs of Professor Crookes would behave with these currents, and he has had the kindness to lend me a few for the occasion. The effects produced are magnificent, especially by the sulphide of calcium and sulphide of zinc. From the disruptive discharge coil they glow intensely merely by holding them in the hand and connecting the body to the terminal of the coil.

To whatever results investigations of this kind may lead, their chief interest lies for the present in the possibilities they offer for the production of an efficient illuminating device. In no branch of electric industry is an advance more desired than in the manufacture of light. Every thinker, when considering the barbarous methods employed, the deplorable losses incurred in our best systems of light production, must have asked himself, What is likely to be the light of the future? Is it to be an incandescent solid, as in the present lamp, or an incandescent gas, or a phosphorescent body, or something like a burner, but incomparably more efficient?

There is little chance to perfect a gas burner; not, perhaps, because human ingenuity has been bent upon that problem for centuries without a radical departure having been made—though this argument is not devoid of force-but because in a burner the higher vibrations can never be reached except by passing through all the low ones. For how is a flame produced unless by a fall of lifted weights? Such process cannot be maintained without renewal, and renewal is repeated passing from low to high vibrations. One way only seems to be open to improve a burner, and that is by trying to reach higher degrees of incandescence. Higher incandescence is equivalent to a quicker vibration; that means more light from the same material, and that, again, means more economy. In this direction some improvements have been made, but the progress is hampered by many limitations. Discarding, then, the burner, there remain the three ways first mentioned, which are essentially electrical.

Suppose the light of the immediate future to be a solid rendered incandescent by electricity. Would it not seem that it is better to employ a small button than a frail filament? From many considerations it certainly must be concluded that a button is capable of a higher economy, assuming, of course, the difficulties connected with the operation of such a lamp to be effectively overcome. But to light such a lamp we require a high potential; and to get this economically we must use high frequencies.

Such considerations apply even more to the production of light by the incandescence of a gas, or by phosphorescence. In all cases we require high frequencies and high potentials. These thoughts occurred to me a long time ago.

Incidentally we gain, by the use of very high frequencies, many advantages, such as a higher economy in the light production, the possibility of working with one lead, the possibility of doing away with the leading-in wire, etc.

The question is, how far can we go with frequencies? Ordinary conductors rapidly lose the facility of transmitting electric impulses when the frequency is greatly increased. Assume the means for the production of impulses of very great frequency brought to the utmost perfection, every one will naturally ask how to transmit them when the necessity arises. In transmitting such impulses through conductors we must remember that we have to deal with pressure and flow, in the ordinary interpretation of these terms. Let the pressure increase to an enormous value, and let the flow correspondingly diminish, then such impulses—variations merely of pressure, as it were—can no doubt be transmitted through a wire even if their frequency be many hundreds of millions per second. It would, of course, be out of question to transmit such impulses through a wire immersed in a gaseous medium, even if the wire were provided with a thick and excellent insulation for most of the energy would be lost in molecular bombardment and consequent heating. The end of the wire connected to the source would be heated, and the remote end would receive but a trifling part of the energy supplied. The prime necessity, then, if such electric impulses are to be used, is to find means to reduce as much as possible the dissipation.

The first thought is, employ the thinnest possible wire surrounded by the thickest practicable insulation. The next thought is to employ electrostatic screens. The insulation of the wire may be covered with a thin conducting coating and the latter connected to the ground. But this would not do, as then all the energy would pass through the conducting coating to the ground and nothing would get to the end of the wire. If a ground connection is made it can only be made through a conductor offering an enormous impedance, or though a condenser of extremely small capacity. This, however, does not do away with other difficulties.

If the wave length of the impulses is much smaller than the length of the wire, then corresponding short waves will be sent up in the conducting coating, and it will be more or less the same as though the coating were directly connected to earth. It is therefore necessary to cut up the coating in sections much shorter than the wave length. Such an arrangement does not still afford a perfect screen, but it is ten thousand times better than none. I think it preferable to cut up the conducting coating in small sections, even if the current waves be much longer than the coating.

If a wire were provided with a perfect electrostatic screen, it would be the same as though all objects were removed from it at infinite distance. The capacity would then be reduced to the capacity of the wire itself, which would be very small. It would then be possible to send over the wire current vibrations of very high frequencies at enormous distance without affecting greatly the character of the vibrations. A perfect screen is of course out of the question, but I believe that with a screen such as I have just described telephony could be rendered practicable across the Atlantic. According to my ideas, the gutta-percha covered wire should be provided with a third conducting coating subdivided in sections. On the top of this should be again placed a layer of gutta-percha and other insulation, and on the top of the whole the armor. But such cables will not be constructed, for ere long intelligence—transmitted without wires—will throb through the earth like a pulse through a living organism. The wonder is that, with the present state of knowledge and the experiences gained, no attempt is being made to disturb the electrostatic or magnetic condition of the earth, and transmit, if nothing else, intelligence.

It has been my chief aim in presenting these results to point out phenomena or features of novelty, and to advance ideas which I am hopeful will serve as starting points of new departures. It has been my chief desire this evening to entertain you with some novel experiments. Your applause, so frequently and generously accorded, has told me that I have succeeded.

In conclusion, let me thank you most heartily for your kindness and attention, and assure you that the honor I have had in addressing such a distinguished audience, the pleasure I have had in presenting these results to a gathering of so many able men—and among them also some of those in whose work for many years past I have found enlightenment and constant pleasure—I shall never forget.

[Transcriber's note: Corrected the following typesetting errors: 1) 'preceived' to 'perceived', page 16. 2) 'disharging' to 'discharging', page 30. 3) 'park' to 'spark', page 33. 4) 'pssition' to 'position', page 50. 5) 'to th opposite side' to 'to the opposite side', page 56. 6) 's resses' to 'stresses', page 147.]


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