Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

When the frequency is so high that the discharge shown in Fig. 7 / 103 is, observed, considerable dissipation no doubt occurs in the coil. Nevertheless the coil may be worked for a long time, as the heating is gradual.
In spite of the fact that the difference of potential may be enormous, little is felt when the discharge is passed through the body, provided the hands are armed. This is to some extent due to the higher frequency, but principally to the fact that less energy is available externally, when the difference of potential reaches an enormous value, owing to the circumstance that, with the rise of potential, the energy absorbed in the coil increases as the square of the potential. Up to a certain point the energy available externally increases with the rise of potential, then it begins to fall off rapidly. Thus, with the ordinary high tension induction coil, the curious paradox exists, that, while with a given current through the primary the shock might be fatal, with many times that current it might be perfectly harmless, even if the frequency be the same. With high frequencies and excessively high potentials when the terminals are not connected to bodies of some size, practically all the energy supplied to the primary is taken up by the coil. There is no breaking through, no local injury, but all the material, insulating and conducting, is uniformly heated.
To avoid misunderstanding in regard to the physiological effect of alternating currents of very high frequency, I think it necessary to state that, while it is an undeniable fact that they are incomparably less dangerous than currents of low frequencies; it should not be thought that they are altogether harmless. What has just been said refers only to currents from an ordinary high tension induction coil, which currents are necessarily very small; if received directly from a machine or from a secondary of low resistance, they produce more or less powerful effects, and may cause serious injury, especially when used in conjunction with condensers.
The streaming discharge of a high tension induction coil differs in many respects from that of a powerful static machine. In color it has neither the violet of the positive, nor the brightness of the negative, static discharge, but lies somewhere between, being, of course, alternatively positive and negative. But since the streaming is more powerful when the point or terminal is electrified positively, than when electrified negatively, it follows that the point of the brush is more like the positive, and the root more like the negative, static discharge. In the dark, when the brush is very powerful, the root may appear almost white. The wind produced by the escaping streams, though it may be very strong—often indeed to such a degree that it may be felt quite a distance from the coil—is, nevertheless, considering the quantity of the discharge, smaller than that produced by the positive brush of a static machine, and it affects the flame much less powerfully: From the nature of the phenomenon we can conclude that the higher the frequency, the smaller must, of course, be the wind produced by the streams, and with sufficiently high frequencies no wind at all would be produced at the ordinary atmospheric pressures. With frequencies obtainable by means of a machine, the mechanical effect is sufficiently great to revolve, with considerable speed, large pin-wheels, which in the dark present beautiful appearance owing to the abundance of the streams (Fig. 10 / 106).
In general, most of the experiments usually performed with a static machine can be performed with an induction coil when operated with very rapidly alternating currents. The effects produced, however, are much more striking; being of incomparably greater power. When a small length of ordinary cotton covered wire, Fig. 11, is attached to one terminal of the coil, the streams issuing from all points of the wire may be so intense as to produce a considerable light effect. When the potentials and frequencies are very high, a wire insulated with gutta percha or rubber and attached to one of the terminals, appears to be covered with a luminous film A very thin bare wire when attached to a terminal emits powerful streams and vibrates continually to and fro or spins in a circle, producing a singular effect (Fig. 12). Some of these experiments have been described by me in The Electrical World, of February 21, 1891.