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New biography of Nikola Tesla; Explore the night sky at Capital Astronomers event

Nikola Tesla took 250,000-volt shocks to his body to demonstrate the safety of alternating current. (Nikola Tesla Museum)
Starry, starry night, all month long “Exploring the Sky,”July 13 in Rock Creek Park

The moon and stars are putting on quite a show this month with an abundance of planetary activity throughout July , and National Capital Astronomers can help you make sense of the bustling night sky.

The group will hold a sky-gazing event at Rock Creek Park on July 13, when participants will be able to find the young, first-quarter moon advancing toward Saturn in the south-southwestern sky.

Also visible will be the “Summer Triangle,” a three-pronged star pattern, or asterism, that is brightest during the summer months. It is made up of the star Vega in the constellation Lyra, Deneb in the constellation Cygnus, and Altair in the constellation Aquila.

“Exploring the Sky,” hosted by the National Park Service and National Capital Astronomers, will begin at 9 p.m. Participants will meet in Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads. For details, call 202-895-6070 or visit www.capitalastronomers.

Science Biography
‘The greatest geek who ever lived’
“Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age” by W. Bernard Carlson

There’s no shortage of books and Web sites dedicated to the work of inventor Nikola Tesla. Fan pages abound, and Tesla, whose work formed the basis of modern alternating current electricity, was immortalized in an online comic strip that deemed him “the greatest geek who ever lived.”

Now, in “Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age,” W. Bernard Carlson attempts to shed new light on the eccentric, “idealist” inventor, who was born 157 years ago this week.

The biography recounts Tesla’s early life in what is now Croatia, his introduction to physics and electricity, and his technological breakthroughs, chief among them an AC induction motor. The book also examines Tesla’s business acumen and knack for self-
promotion — his ability to sell not just his inventions but also himself to the public.

“Every scientist knows his work and every foolish person included in . . . New York society knows his face” is how one journalist described him, the book says.

Using letters, technical notes, business records, legal testimony, newspaper clippings, scientific artifacts and personal effects, Carlson takes a historian’s approach to piecing together Tesla’s life. He resists the temptation to focus only on Tesla’s persona as an eccentric genius with a flair for drama. (To demonstrate the safety of alternating current, Tesla took 250,000-volt shocks to his body.)

Instead, Carlson sets out to answer three questions: “How did Tesla invent? How did his inventions work? And what happened as he introduced his inventions?”

“Some readers may be disappointed that their favorite Tesla story is not here and that there may be more technical discussion than they would like,” Carlson warns in the introduction.

Carlson also tries to strike a balanced tone, noting that it is easy for biographers to be either excessively enthusiastic about Tesla’s contributions or unfairly critical of his unrealized inventions, including his failed plan for wireless power.



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