Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

When the frequency is increased beyond that rate, the potential, of course, rises, but the striking distance may, nevertheless, diminish, paradoxical as it may seem. As the potential rises the coil attains more and more the properties of a static machine until, finally, one may observe the beautiful phenomenon of the streaming discharge, Fig. 5 / 101, which may be produced across the whole length of the coil. At that stage streams begin to issue freely from all points and projections. These streams will also be seen to pass in abundance in the space between the primary and the insulating tube. When the potential is excessively high they will always appear; even if the frequency be low, and even if the primary be surrounded by as much as an inch of wax, hard rubber, glass, or any other insulating substance. This limits greatly the output of the coil, but I will later show how I have been able to overcome to a considerable extent this disadvantage in the ordinary coil.
Besides the potential, the intensity of the streams depends on the frequency; but if the coil be very large they show themselves, no matter how low the frequencies used. For instance, in a very large coil of a resistance of 67,000 ohms, constructed by me some time ago, they appear with as low as 100 alternations per second and less, the insulation of the secondary being 3/4 inch of ebonite. When very intense they produce a noise similar to that produced by the charging of a Holtz machine, but much more powerful, and they emit a strong smell of ozone. The lower the frequency, the more apt they are to suddenly injure the coil. With excessively high frequencies they may pass freely without producing any other effect than to heat the insulation slowly and uniformly.
The existence of these streams shows the importance of constructing an expensive coil so as to permit of one’s seeing through the tube surrounding the primary, and the latter should be easily exchangeable; or else the space between the primary and secondary should be completely filled up with insulating material so as to exclude all air. The non-observance of this simple rule in the construction of commercial coils is responsible for the destruction of many an expensive coil.
At the stage when the streaming discharge occurs, or with somewhat higher frequencies, one may, by approaching the terminals quite nearly, and regulating properly the effect of capacity, produce a veritable spray of small silver-white sparks, or a bunch of excessively thin silvery threads (Fig. 6 / 102) amidst a powerful brush—each spark or thread possibly corresponding to one alternation. ibis, when produced under proper conditions, is probably the most beautiful discharge, and when an air blast is directed against it, it presents a singular appearance. The spray of sparks, when received through the body, causes some inconvenience, whereas, when the discharge simply streams, nothing at all is likely to be felt if large conducting objects are held in the hands to protect them from receiving small burns.
Fig.6-7If the frequency is still more increased, then the coil refuses to give any spark unless at comparatively small distances, and the fifth typical form of discharge may be observed (Fig. 7 / 103). The tendency to stream out and dissipate is then so great that when the brush is produced at one terminal no sparking occurs; even if, as I have repeatedly tricd, the hand, or any conducting object, is held within the stream; and. what is mere singular, the luminous stream is not at all easily deflected by the approach of a conducting body.
At this stage the streams seemingly pass with the greatest freedom through considerable thicknesses of insulators, and it is particularly interesting to study their behavior. For this purpose it is convenient to connect to the terminals of the coil two metallic spheres which may be placed at any desired distance, Fig. 8 / 104. Spheres arc preferable to plates, as the discharge can be better observed. By inserting dielectric bodies between the spheres, beautiful discharge phenomena tray be observed. If the spheres be quite close and the spark be playing between them, by interposing a thin plate of ebonite between the spheres the span: instantly ceases and the discharge spread; into an intensely luminous circle several inches in diameter, provided the spheres are sufficiently large. The passage of the streams heats, and; after a while, softens, the rubber so much that two plates may be made to stick together in this manner. If the spheres are so far apart that no spark occurs, even if they are far beyond the striking distance, by inserting a thick plate of mass the discharge is instantly induced to pass from the spheres to the glass is the form of luminous streams. It appears almost as though these streams pass through the dielectric. In reality this is not the case, as the streams are due to the molecules of the air which are violently agitated in the space between the oppositely charged surfaces of the spheres. When no dielectric other than air is present, the bombardment goes on, but is too weak to be visible; by inserting, a dielectric the inductive effect is much increased, and besides, the projected air molecules find an obstacle and the bombardment becomes so intense that the streams become luminous. If by any mechanical means we could effect such a violent agitation of the molecules we could produce the same phenomenon. A jet of air escaping through a small hole under enormous pressure and striking against an insulating substance, such as glass, may be luminous in the dark, and it might be possible to produce a phosphorescence of the gloss or other insulators in this manner.