Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

But of all the views on nature, the one which assumes one matter and one force, and a perfect uniformity throughout, is the most scientific and most likely to be true. An infinitesimal world, with the molecules and their atoms spinning and moving in orbits, in much the same manner as celestial bodies, carrying with them and probably spinning with them ether, or in other words; carrying with them static charges, seems to my mind the most probable view, and one which, in a plausible manner, accounts for most of the phenomena observed. The spinning of the molecules and their ether sets up the ether tensions or electrostatic strains; the equalization of ether tensions sets up ether motions or electric currents, and the orbital movements produce the effects of electro and permanent magnetism
About fifteen, years ago, Prof. Rowland demonstrated a most interesting and important fact; namely, that a static charge carried around produces the effects of an electric current. Leaving out of consideration the precise nature of the mechanism, which produces the attraction and repulsion of currents, and conceiving the electrostatically charged molecules in motion, this experimental fact gives us a fair idea of magnetism. We can conceive lines or tubes of force which physically exist, being formed of rows of directed moving molecules; we can see that these lines must be closed, that they must tend to shorten and expand, etc. It likewise explains in a reasonable way, the most puzzling phenomenon of all, permanent magnetism, and, in general, has all the beauties of the Ampere theory without possessing the vital defect of the same, namely, the assumption of molecular currents. Without enlarging further upon the subject, I would say, that I look upon all electrostatic, current and magnetic phenomena as being due to electrostatic molecular forces.
The preceding remarks I have deemed necessary to a full understanding; of the subject as it presents itself to my mind.
Of all these phenomena the most important to study are the current phenomena, on account of the already extensive and ever-growing use of currents for industrial purposes. It is now a century since the first practical source of current was produced, and, ever since, the phenomena which accompany the flow of currents have been diligently studied, and through the untiring efforts of scientific men the simple laws which govern them have been discovered. But these laws are found to hold good only when the currents are of a steady character. When the currents are rapidly varying in strength, quite different phenomena, often unexpected, present themselves, and quite different laws hold good, which even now have not been determined as fully as is desirable, though through the work, principally, of English scientists, enough knowledge has been gained on the subject to enable us to treat simple cases which now present themselves in daily practice.
The phenomena which are peculiar to the changing character of the currents are greatly exalted when the rate of change is increased, hence the study of these currents is considerably facilitated by the employment of properly constructed apparatus. It was with this and other objects in view that I constructed alternate current machines capable of giving more than two million reversals of current per minute, and to this circumstance it is principally due, that I am able to bring to your attention some of the results thus far reached; which I hope will prove to be a step in advance on account of their direct bearing upon one of the most important problems, namely, the production of a practical and efficient source of light.
The study of such rapidly alternating currents is very interesting. Nearly every experiment discloses something new. Many results may, of course, be predicted, but many more are unforeseen. The experimenter makes many interesting observations. For instance, we take a piece of iron and hold it against a magnet. Starting from low alternations and running up higher and higher we feel the impulses succeed each other faster and faster, get weaker and weaker, and finally disappear. We then observe a continuous pull; the pull, of course, is not continuous; it only appears so to us; our sense of touch is imperfect.
We may next establish an arc between the electrodes and observe, as the alternations rise, that the note which accompanies alternating arcs gets shriller and shriller, gradually weakens, and finally ceases. The air vibrations, of course, continue, but they are too weak to be perceived; our sense of hearing fails us.
We observe the small physiological effects, the rapid heating of the iron cores and conductors, curious inductive effects, interesting condenser phenomena, and still more interesting light phenomena with a high tension induction coil. All these experiments and observations would be of the greatest interest to the student, but their description would lead me too far from the principal subject. Partly for this reason, and partly on account of their vastly greater importance, I will confine myself to the description of the light effects produced by these currents.