Tesla coil

The Discovery PlaceTesla coil was donated to Discovery Place last year by Richard Mathias and his wife, Mary Ellen. From Discovery Place

CHARLOTTE – A musical Tesla coil donated to Discovery Place Science is now electrifying audiences with its renditions of nearly two dozen well-known tunes.

A form of induction coil used to produce high-frequency alternating electrical currents, the Tesla coil was originally created by Nikola Tesla in the late 1800s in an effort to provide wireless electricity to the world.

The Museum’s Tesla coil was donated to Discovery Place last year by Richard Mathias and his wife, Mary Ellen, whose Tesla Coil Museum Exhibit Program has given similar equipment to various museums across the country for the better part of two decades.  This coil was built specifically for Discovery Place Science.

Following a few weeks of precise technical adjustments, the instrument now sits in the Discovery Theatre on Level 1 of the Museum, where daily performances are taking place. The coil converts 240 volts of electricity into one million volts to produce bolts of electricity shooting out of its “ears.” The bolts of electricity can arc up to approximately 12 feet.

“Our Tesla coil happens to be musical, so the electricity translates the impulses of pre-programmed music files that we feed it to play music,” said Douglas Coler, manager of shows and floor programs. “It can play about 28 different songs, including everything from the Ghostbusters theme song to the opening tune in Game of Thrones.”

Special programming built around the Tesla coil debuts this month. The show, “Tommy Thunder’s Heavy Metal Lightning Show,” was written by P.J. Griffith, who won the 2017 Jon Lipsky Playwriting award from the International Museum Theatre Alliance for his script Midwinter Mischief.

The show puts the Tesla coil at center stage as rock-star-turned-meteorologist Tommy Thunder and his straight-laced manager, Karen, explain (in song) electrical concepts, natural phenomena and Nikola Tesla’s legacy, all while Tommy tries to relive his heavy metal glory days.

“This is a great demonstration of how electricity travels and what happens when it is converted like that,” Coler said. “The fact that it plays music is just an added bonus. It’s a million volts and several sweet tunes all in one show.”

Shows take place at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays and at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends. For more information, click here.

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