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New film may ignite interest in Nikola Tesla and his LI lab

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a Serb-American physicist, mechanical engineer

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), a Serb-American physicist, mechanical engineer and electrical engineer whose patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current electric power (AC) systems. Credit: Getty Images/Science Source/Phot

We all learn in elementary school that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Simple, right?

        Not exactly.

There were many competitors in the battle to bring electricity to the world (and profit from it), and that scientific showdown is the premise of the new film “The Current War,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch (as Edison), Michael Shannon (as industrialist George Westinghouse) and Nicholas Hoult (as eccentric Serbian-American genius Nikola Tesla). It hits area cinemas on Sept. 25.

Edison’s a household name, and Westinghouse brand still churns out appliances. But Tesla — despite Elon Musk naming his car company after him — was almost lost to history, along with his secret Shoreham lab, called Wardenclyffe, where in the early 1900s he conducted mysterious experiments using a 187-foot transmission tower rising above what was then wooded countryside.

“Electricity was the innovation economy (back then), and Tesla was at the center of it,” says Marc Alessi, a former state assemblyman, now executive director of a nonprofit group seeking to rebuild the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe (TSCW), creating a permanent museum.

        Edison’s bulbs were impressive, but — as the film shows — the real trick was getting power from house to house. Tesla’s alternating current (AC) competed with Edison’s direct current (DC), and AC eventually became the industry standard. At Shoreham, Tesla researched what seemed a pipe dream — wireless communication. Alas, he ran out of money, the work was scrapped and his tower torn down (only a small building remains). Things like smartphones and email wouldn’t become reality for decades.

“Tesla’s inventions and what he’s done for humanity needs to be told,” says Alessi. “I’m hoping this movie gets some of that out there.”

And not just the movie. Here are some more nearby Tesla-themed events. (For info, visit teslasciencecenter.org.)

* Teslamania 2019 — An invention contest and physics demos for teachers and students. (Tickets, $15 to $25; on Oct. 19, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Stony Brook University.)

* Halloween at Wardenclyffe — Arts and crafts, face painting, a kids costume contest, plus a screening of the movie “Goosebumps 2,” which features a fictionalized version of Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. (Tickets, $5 to $15; on Saturday, Oct. 26, 4 to 7 p.m., at TSCW, 5 Randall Road, Shoreham.)

* Energy: The Power of Art—The beauty of physics and energy come to life with artwork (Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder) and scientific instruments (cloud chamber, Tesla coil) in this interactive exhibit created with Brookhaven National Lab and TSCW. (Tickets, $4 to $12; through Nov. 3 at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn.)

      * Holiday Lighting at Wardenclyffe—Discover a festive wonderland with trees decorated by area businesses, plus music, hot chocolate and Santa. (Free; 3 to 6 p.m. on December 7 at TSCW, 5 Randall Road, Shoreham.)

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