Few scientists have attracted the imagination of the general public than Nikola Tesla. Serbian, he was born in the Austrian Empire in the 1850s and studied maths and physics. He worked for a telephone company in Bucharest, before moving to the United States in 1884. There, he briefly worked for Thomas Edison, before starting his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing.
Tesla made countless breakthrough inventions in the production, transmission and application of electricity. These comprise, for example, the induction motor, which is now the most common form of electric motor - including those used in electric cars (such as those manufactured by the company that now uses his name). The induction motor runs on alternating electrical current, which generates a rotating magnetic field that turns the motor.
He defended the use of alternating currents in the so-called "War of the Currents" against Thomas Edison, who was a supporter of (constant) DC currents. The "War of the Currents" was a series of events that included commercial competition, a debate over electrical safety, and a media/propaganda campaign, which resulted in the general adoption of alternating current due to reduced losses and cost.
His inventions include electrical discharge tubes and even a wireless-controlled boat, one of the first ever exhibited. Tesla became well known as an inventor and would demonstrate his achievements to celebrities and wealthy patrons at his lab, and was noted for his showmanship at public lectures.
In the 1890s he started working on techniques for the wireless transfer of electric power. While this line of research was not successful at the time, it has been taken up by several researchers in the last decade and it's currently being developed by several companies worldwide.
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The study of electricity and its applications form a core part of all physics degree programmes at Heriot-Watt (2nd year course B28EP Electronics and Programming Skills, 3rd year course B29EM Electromagnetism and 4th year course B20ES Electromagnetism and Laser Physics).