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Tech Fair Trills at Dartmouth

Thayer Event Inspired By Opera at Hopkins

Hanover — Dartmouth College students and other Upper Valley residents had a chance to witness the convergence of arts and sciences at the celebration and demonstration of a groundbreaking Serbian-American inventor’s life, work and legacy this week.

The Tesla TechFair at the Thayer School of Engineering on Thursday was a byproduct of the opera Tesla in New York being shown at the Hopkins Center this weekend. The fair has been in the making for about a year, ever since the Hopkins Center reached out to Thayer faculty with the idea of collaborating over the inventor Nikola Tesla.

Tesla grew up in Croatia, but eventually moved to the United States around 1884 while working for Thomas Edison.

As Edison and Tesla began to butt heads over the flow of currents in motor systems, Edison stuck to his method of direct flow, while Tesla developed the alternating current system of motors and generators and acquired 40 U.S. patents on the system, according to the Tesla Society website. Tesla’s AC induction motor is widely used in appliances and industry today.

The alternating current system is Tesla’s greatest achievement, but his invention of the Tesla coil, which is used in used in radios, televisions and other electronic equipment, and wireless energy transmission have proven wildly successful and applicable as well.

Tesla, who died in New York City in 1943, is also the namesake of Tesla Motors, the electric car company founded in California 50 years after his death.

While the opera explores Tesla as a person, it was left to Thayer to display his inventions and engineering legacy.

“We wanted to put on an event that would highlight Tesla’s inventions and how they impact life today,” Thayer Associate Professor Ulrike Wegst said. “I’m really excited that there was a good response and that we have fun exhibition pieces.” Wegst helped organize the Telsa TechFair on behalf of Thayer.

The Hopkins Center also contributed greatly to the creation and execution of the events at Thayer. “The idea [for the Tesla TechFair] was borne out of conversations between the Hopkins Center and Thayer faculty,” Hopkins employee Stephanie Pachero said.

Divided between a panel discussion led by prominent professors and an experiential exhibition of student-produced projects, the fair was conceptually accessible for all audiences and ages.

“Everyone loves a science fair and this is a fun way to bring together arts and sciences,” Pachero said.

The panel included Charles Sullivan, Thayer Associate Professor of Engineering, David Perreault from the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Bernard Carlson from the UVA Department of History and author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age. Sullivan focused on the practical legacies of Tesla’s inventions by discussing the importance of the rotating magnetic field and resonant tuning, which controls the wireless transfer of energy and is the core of modern communications systems, to the evolution of modern technology.

Additionally, Sullivan cited the expected widespread use of Tesla’s wireless power transmission methods in the future, especially in regards to the practice of beaming power from space. Carlson drew on the life of Tesla and the traits and experiences that made him such a significant inventor and thinker in the field of invention and engineering. “If he imagined it, he wanted to see it demonstrated in the real world,” Carlson said.

Following the panel, spectators had the opportunity to see the objects of Tesla’s imagination in use. The projects on display embodied many of Tesla’s concepts such as the Tesla coil, AC transmission and radio control.

Brad Ficko, as well as fellow Thayer students Jennifer Demers and Priyanka Nadar, started with a disco ball with flashing LED lights to utilize the a modern motor influenced by Tesla concepts. However, the project turned into “Tesla Disco Pigeons” controlled by a modern motor.

Ficko said he received positive feedback on their project at the fair and that organizers told their group that their project embodied the convergence of arts and sciences.

“The engineering school does a good job of working with other fields and individuals in the Dartmouth community, but it’s not often that we get to work with the Arts and the Tesla Fair is a unique opportunity to show off the practical and artistic sides of an inventor’s life,” Ficko said.

Macy Ferguson can be reached at Macy.S.Ferguson.16@dartmouth.edu.