July 10 is Nikola Tesla’s birthday. He was born 165 years ago. Tesla is one of the most enigmatic figures in the STEM world, and had he been alive today, he would be a massive fan of the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo.
It is easy to imagine him working to invent a quantum computing processor in our world-renown Department of Combinatorics and Optimization. Or he may have been more interested in working on string theory and higher dimensions with our researchers in Pure Mathematics. Or he may have been breaking new ground in the Cheriton School of Computer Science. Like Tesla, the Faculty of Mathematics is all about innovation, and so we celebrate him as someone who pushed the boundaries of what is considered possible.
There is a great deal of conjecture around Tesla’s life and work, and sometimes it can be challenging to separate the fact from the fiction. That’s probably why Tesla, more than any other figure, is caricatured as an eccentric genius. In honour of his birthday, here is a list of the top ten facts about Nikola Tesla.
- Tesla contributed knowledge and inventiveness to AC electric current, wireless communications and X-ray technology. He also had unrealized plans for inventions like the thought camera, the earthquake machine and the death ray.
- Tesla didn’t own a permanent residence and lived in hotels for most of his life. Multiple hotels evicted him for not paying his bills.
- Tesla was a germaphobe and obsessive about cleaning. Yet, he was also deathly afraid of doctors and refused to seek medical help even after a terrible car accident.
- Tesla loved feeding pigeons in New York. He was said to have had a favourite pigeon that he called by name.
- Tesla had a photographic memory. He remembered and could recall extensive written passages, data and obscure events, even from his early childhood.
- Tesla enjoyed long walks and said walking helped him think. He walked up to four hours every day.
- Tesla loved celebrating his birthday. He would invite reporters and use the occasion to promote his latest inventions.
- Tesla was good friends with Mark Twain. The famous writer was enamoured with Tesla’s peculiarities and loved to play with the various inventions in Tesla’s labs.
- Tesla hated pearls, though no one knows why. He was said to find pearl necklaces repulsive and to walk away from anyone wearing them.
- Tesla was a visionary of future technological progress. He predicted smartphones, Wi-Fi, self-driving cars and the possible rise of artificial intelligence.
By the Numbers is a weekly series that reflects on the lighter side of student life, research and innovation in the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo. Stay tuned to this space for the next installment.