Singing Tesla Coils

Project Type: Applied Physics

Project Information

Project Description:

The task is to design and build a dual-resonant, solid-state Tesla coil capable of producing voice and music from high-voltage discharges in air.  Power to the coil is modulated by a half-bridge Class-D amplifier that uses insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs).  Analog pulse-width modulation is achieved by comparing ± 2V audio input with a triangular sampling waveform.  Primary and secondary circuits will resonate around 250 kHz.  Audio sampling rates are around 25 kHz to cover a music spectrum from 40 Hz to 3 kHz.

Level of Difficulty: Medium

Keywords/Technologies:

Pulse width modulation (PWM), corona discharge, arc discharge, DC link capacitor, plasma speaker, triangle wave oscillator, comparator, gate drive, duty cycle, topload

References:

“Class D Amplifiers: Fundamentals of Operation and Recent Developments,” Application Note 3977, Maxim Integrated. https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/app-notes/index.mvp/id/3977

“MIT Students Develop oneTesla Self-build, Music-playing Tesla Coil Kit,” by Paul Ridden, New Atlas, January 4th, 2013 https://newatlas.com/onetesla-music-playing-tesla-coil-diy-kit/25640/

“Analog Pulse Width Modulation,” by John Caldwell, TI Precision Designs, SLAU508-June 2013; http://www.ti.com/lit/ug/slau508/slau508.pdf

Team Roles

Electrical Engineer (2) – Electrical Engineers on the project are responsible for the power supply and power switching system using IGBTs.  Early tests of the Tesla coil assembly will include matching the resonant frequencies of the primary and secondary networks with direct measurements.  Prototype PWM and gate-drive circuits will be developed on custom printed circuit boards that are hardened against electromagnetic interference (EMI).

Mechanical Engineer (2) – Mechanical Engineers are responsible for design and fabrication of the primary coil, secondary coil, and toroidal topload.  MEs will design a system package that is compact, to reduce stray inductances, but not so compact that close spaces promote unwanted electrical corona and breakdown.

Physicist (2) – Physicists will design the appropriate “antenna” that concentrates the high-voltage discharge onto either a pointed rod or shaped wire.  Measurements of music amplitude will determine the best antenna configuration.  Physicists will also measure the length of the discharges and use the data to estimate the coil voltage.

Computer Scientist (2) – Computer Scientists are responsible for the interface between various analog and digital audio sources and the Tesla coil.  Additionally, Computer Scientists will design the isolation interface between the power control system and the power switching network.  The choices include a three-winding transformer (close) or dual optical fibers (distance).

Designer (2) – The Designers will work closely with the Engineers and Scientists to make the Tesla coil package small, reliable and portable.  The Tesla coil is meant to be enjoyed by a large group so the Designers will make the system as safe as possible for public viewing.

Journalist (1) – The Journalist documents the project’s progress on the website, communicates with the local media, and is responsible for a final report to the principal sponsors and Power Mountain Engineering.  The Journalist also works closely with the Multimedia Artist to provide video and graphic art displays for demonstrations that explain the project to the public.  The whole project is your project.

Multimedia Artist (1) – The Artist also documents the project’s progress on the website and works with the Journalist to maintain the project’s presence on social media.  Additionally, the Artist designs and organizes all public relations events to assure spectator safety and to enhance the community’s awareness of science and technology.  The whole project is your project.

Business Manager (1) – The Business Manager is responsible for reporting the project’s progress against a predetermined schedule, determines critical path items to completion, and tracks project spending to assure that costs remain within a fixed budget.  The Manager works with all team members to identify problems early and resolve them quickly.  The whole project is your project.

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