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Front Page - Friday, September 22, 2017

Tesla Gun wows visitors at Mini Maker Faire

Cameron Prince fires a harmless bolt of lightning from his Tesla Gun. - Photographs by David Laprad

Cameron Prince looks like he’s stepped out of a “Ghostbusters” movie as he lowers his gun, takes aim at a young woman’s hand and pulls the trigger.

A crackling sound fills the air as a bolt of lightning arcs three feet from the tip of the gun to its target. But instead of screaming in agony as her hand melts from the heat of a thousand suns, the young lady laughs and holds her hand steady.

She’s passed the test and is now one of the cool kids.

The “weapon” Prince is holding is actually a Tesla Gun, a portable machine that produces harmless high frequency, low currency bolts of lightning.

“High-frequency electricity tends to flow over your body rather than through it,” he says. “You feel the impact as well as some heat, but you don’t feel shocked because the electricity is moving over your skin.”

A fan of Nikola Tesla since first seeing the inventor on television as a child, Prince built the Tesla Gun with the help of a couple of friends.

The device consists of a battery, CPU and power supply circuits along with a pistol grip mounted Tesla coil capable of producing six-foot sparks. The power supply circuitry is water-cooled and can run continuously for several minutes or provide up to several hours of non-continuous operation.

Advanced control circuity allows the sparks to be varied in length, frequency and pulse-rate.

The gun can be used to ignite hydrogen-filled balloons for a nice bang, or directed into a grounded rod to roast marshmallows or hot dogs.

At lower power levels, the sparks aren’t painful, and those brave enough can touch them.

A computer programmer by trade, Prince says this is the third version of the gun, and the first one that worked. “We blew up a couple while we were trying to perfect it,” he says as he fires a bolt of lightning at a boy’s hand.

A resident of Huntsville, Prince is at the First Tennessee Pavilion, where about 80 vendors are showing off their creations on a Saturday afternoon in September at the Chattanooga Mini Maker Faire.

As part of an event that includes a video game that uses electricity conducted through Silly Putty to control Ms. Pac-Man, remote-controlled robots that compete in games of speed and dexterity and a self-contained ecosystem that raises fish and produces lettuce, Prince’s Tesla Gun fits right in.

Despite looking like a weapon one might wield in a sci-fi video game, the gun is nothing new. Rather, it’s based on technology Tesla invented in the 1800s.

“He was attempting to send electricity wirelessly,” Prince explains.

Tesla (1856-1943) was a Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and physicist who’s best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system.

A patent search on Tesla is just as eye-opening as the sparks his inventions produce. Pumps, fluid propulsion, motors and more are all there.

Tesla’s inventions excited Prince as a young man and continue to impress him today. “Tesla harnessed Niagara Falls to produce electricity, he invented radar, he invented fluorescent lighting – the number of contributions he made to society is amazing,” he notes.

Prince has been studying Tesla and building his inventions since he was a kid. Despite its intimidating appearance, the Tesla Gun he’s holding is a smaller version of a larger device he built.

“I have one that stands about 12 feet tall. It produces 16-feet long lightning bolts and plays music,” he adds. “The computer can modulate the sparks so they produce the notes contained in a MIDI file. Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’ sounds good.”

Although Prince’s Tesla Gun would be a hit at parties, it’s not for sale. But people wanting to learn more about the device, Tesla or Prince’s life-long obsession can do so at www.teslauniverse.com.

Prince created the website to provide a place for like-minded Tesla enthusiasts to gather and discuss his inventions. The site boasts a community of 3,000 users.

One does not have to pass the Tesla Gun test to join.