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Hot Springs Village couple to cap 17 years of Tesla coil donations

Hot Springs Village couple to cap 17 years of Tesla coil donations

April 15th, 2019 by Cassidy Kendall / The Sentinel-Record in Arkansas News

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—A Hot Springs Village couple will conclude 17 years of Tesla coil creations and donations to science museums with their 10th coil donation to the Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, N.C., in late June.

In an effort to inspire, educate and entertain the public about Nikola Tesla, Richard Mathias and his wife, Mary Ellen, have donated the museum-quality Tesla coil exhibits to science museums around the nation since 2002.

The donations began when he constructed and donated a 1.5-million volt Tesla coil to Hot Springs' Mid-America Science Museum in 2002. After receiving a grant from General Electric to fund half his efforts, Mathias was able to fund the remaining half, leading to the exhibit that would be known as "Caged Lightning."

"Caged Lightning" sits in its own theater at Mid-America today, surrounded by a 2.5-ton steel cage designed by the museum's director of design, Niles Ellis.

Each presentation of the exhibit provides a demonstration of the Tesla coil, a look into Nikola Tesla's life and an explanation of how the invention contributes to everyday life, The Sentinel-Record reported.

It has received approximately 3 million visitors.

In 2007, the coil was certified as the World's Most Powerful Conical Coil on Earth by Guinness World Records.

From this point on, General Electric assisted in the partial funding of all the Tesla coils Mathias created and donated to science museums.

Mathias went on to construct and donate two more Guinness World Record-setting Tesla coils. The World's Most Powerful Bi-polar Musical Tesla coil was donated to Hands On! Regional Museum in Johnson City, Tenn., in 2014, and the World's Largest Bi-Polar Musical Tesla Coil was donated to Museum of Discovery in Little Rock in 2015.

Other museums Mathias has donated coils to include Discovery Museum in Texarkana, Texas, Insight Museum in El Paso, Texas, Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, KidSenses Children Interactive Museum in Rutherfordton, N.C., and Discovery Place in Charlotte, N.C.

After the first installation of a Tesla coil at Mid-America, Mathias and his wife created a smaller, 400,000-volt Tesla coil and began a traveling educational program titled "Sermon from Science." The program, lasting from 2003-2009, traveled to 40 schools and civic organizations, reaching over 22,000 students.

In 2017, the coil was donated to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, N.Y.—the site where Tesla's laboratory once sat.

As the end of his donations near, Mathias said it was time to conclude his series of Tesla coil creations both because of his and his wife's age and because the funding from General Electric had declined immensely from the initial amount.

"We've come to realize there is a time and a season for everything, and our season is over with. It's time to turn it over to the younger generation now," Mary Ellen Mathias said.

Nikola Tesla was an inventor from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, responsible for inventing the first alternating current motor and developing AC generation and transmission technology, according to History.com.

Among his inventions, Tesla created the Tesla coil—a resonant transformer circuit producing electricity.

According to Mid-America Science Museum, the Tesla coil consists of two coils wound in a different manner than that of a traditional transformer, utilizing an air-core design rather than an iron-core design. The primary coil resonates with the secondary coil because they are tuned to be in step with each other electrically. This is accomplished by adjusting the number of turns in the primary coil winding and the total capacitance in the capacitor bank.

Mathias was first introduced to the Tesla coil when he was 9, visiting the Griffith Park Observatory in Southern California. He was so enamored with the invention from that point on, he went on to pursue a career in electrical engineering.

He worked for Westinghouse Electric and General Electric before retiring and moving to Hot Springs Village with his wife, beginning a new adventure creating Tesla coils.

Mathias said he wants the Tesla Coil Museum Exhibit Program to provide people with an interest in technology and science, along with an understanding of Tesla and his inventions.

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