Tesla's earthquake machine did indeed work,
although it didn't create real earthquakes quite
like mother nature does. According to what I've
heard, residents around Tesla's lab felt weird
shaking from time to time, across different parts
of the neighborhood. Since Tesla had a bitof a
reputation as a "Mad Scientist", he was the first
person the police came to question.
worked on a principle called resonance.
understand that, think of a block of wood attached
to a spring. If you give it a push, it will start
oscillating back and forth at a given frequency.
That's called the oscillator's natural frequency.
If you try to drive that spring with a motor at a
random frequency, it won't do much. But if you
drive it at that exact natural frequency, it will
start to oscillate a whole lot.
in the world have some sort of natural frequency.
They may not be springs, but things like planks
of wood or metal can wobble back and forth, as
well. This is how Tesla's oscillator machine
worked. He noticed that if he stuck a motor onto
one of the supporting beams in his lab, he could
make different parts of his lab wobble around by
changing the frequency that the motor is operating
at. One thing he didn't realize, though, was that
these vibrations were transmitted to neighboring
buildings, and if certain parts of those buildings
had the right natural frequency, they would be
driven to oscillate, as well.
don't think this would be a very efficient way to
mess with or attack people, so I don't think you
would necessarily have to worry about protecting
yourself from it. The vibrations would not travel
very far, and at most, would only cause parts of
your house to wiggle around a bit, perhaps
knocking a knick-knack off a shelf or a picture
off a wall. Since California, as well as many
other places, have built their buildings to
withstand strong earthquakes, it would be very,
very unlikely that any damage could be caused. In
addition, almost every household appliance, cars
driving down the road, and many other things will
vibrate at some frequency, so all buildings built
recently should be made to "damp out" these
vibrations very quickly.
However, if this
ever were to happen, there is one thing you could
do to stop the vibrations. The natural frequency
I spoke of earlier depends on how much mass the
vibrating object has. If you were to change the
mass of the object, it would no longer respond to
the driving motor very well, and would stop
oscillating. So if someone were to cause part of
your house, such as a wall, to vibrate using
Tesla's method, adhering something to the wall to
change the mass and shape of the wall would
probably cause it to stop oscillating.
One of Nikola Tesla's many interests was in
figuring out a way to transmit energy from one
point on Earth to another.He knew that if he was
able to build an apparatus that could create
strong vibrations at a particular frequency, the
vibrations would travel through the Earth and
could be measured far away. Essentially, he would
be able to cause an earthquake. The design of
this oscillator is fairly straightforward: air
(or steam) is forced inside the oscillator and
then undergoes compression oscillations at
frequencies which could be varied. Amazingly, the
device Tesla constructed is quite smallseven
inches long and weighing less than 2 lbs.
Purportedly, while operating this device in 1898,
Tesla's lab was destroyed by violent shaking.
The reason this device has the potential to
work concerns the mechanical principle behind
resonance frequencies. Think about a child
playing on a swing. If you give the child a push
at the proper time during the swinging cycle, even
small additions of energy can generate a
significant end result. Similarly, even large
buildings or objects (even the Earth!) have
characteristic resonance frequencies, whereby once
the object begins to vibrate, the continuing
addition of the input of energy at the proper
frequency result in larger and larger
In reality, it is very
unlikely that Tesla's oscillator would cause an
earthquake. In fact, recently on the Discovery
Channel, a group of scientists working on the show
Mythbusters attempted to test this idea exactly.
They built a working oscillator and placed it on
one end of a bridge and moved to the other end of
the bridge. While this device was able to produce
vibrations that could be felt hundreds of feet
away, it was not nearly strong enough to produce
earthquakes. In other words, there is no real
reason to be worried about someone using this to
create earthquakes or damage to buildings and
other structures. Engineers who design large
buildings and bridges understand very well the
idea of resonance frequencies and make sure their
structure would be sufficiently strong even if the
building was exposed to its resonance frequency.
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