Friday, November 15, 2013

Invention Convention: Nikola Tesla's "Death Ray"

        Even though America’s independence was gained through a long and costly war, the scope of war had changed by the 20th century and well-known inventor Nikola Tesla proposed the construction of a machine that would put an end to all wars. This machine, known as the “Death Ray,” “Peace Ray,” and “teleforce,” was designed to send concentrated beams of particles through free air with such tremendous energy that they would bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 250 miles.  While this destructive power is unimaginable, Tesla had the opposite intentions in mind as he had inherited a hatred of war from his father. Tesla intended this machine to be used for peace purposes, as it would in theory provide each country with an “invisible Chinese wall” that would make countries impenetrable and thus make war impossible.

        While it is still uncertain today if Tesla actually built one of these machines, he at very least developed the technology that would have made something like this possible.  Tesla was not the first or the last to propose a machine of this sort, but he was the only one who had the science to back up his proposal. He developed a unique vacuum chamber with one end open to the atmosphere capable of directing a high-velocity air stream.

        Although unconfirmed, it is rumored that in 1908 Tesla built a prototype of his death ray, and attempted to send a ray to the North Pole, but instead overshot and potentially caused a mysterious explosion in Tunguska, Siberia.  After this explosion, one that miraculously killed no one, Tesla is said to have dismantled the machine, deeming it too dangerous for use.

        The onset of World War I, however, caused him to reconsider.  Legend has it that Tesla wrote a letter to President Wilson, revealing his secret death ray test and offering to rebuild the weapon for the War Department to be used only as a deterrent.  Tesla believed that even the threat of this weapon would be enough to deter war. Evidently President Wilson did not take Tesla up on his offer.  It is claimed that all Tesla got in response was a form letter of appreciation from the president’s secretary.

        Even though the death ray was never constructed, it still has an impressive legacy as it served as inspiration for many important inventions including radar and the charged-particle beam weapon developed by both the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war.  Tesla’s death ray has also been credited as a precursor to laser technology, the atom bomb and the idea of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), and even President Regan’s “Star Wars” program which roughly proposed the use of laser technology to protect and defend the nation.

        What do you think of the invention of a “death ray”? Do you think it is possible that something like this was ever created? If so, would it cause more problems than it would solve?  Should Wilson have taken Tesla up on his offer and potentially changed the course of history? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think!

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