A group of WVU engineering students proved that necessity is not always the mother of invention. Sometimes it’s just plain fun.

At the request of an anonymous client, the students built a model of a Tesla Coil for the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering competition.

The purpose?

“He wants to play with it,” Evan Ferrell of Team Tesla Coil said. “He’s going to keep it in his basement.”

Nikola Tesla invented the coils in the late 19th Century to provide wireless power to the world. The device proved impractical for most uses but larger versions are used by power companies for testing equipment, particularly the effectiveness of insulation.

Ferrell and his teammates used the same multi-coil, voltage-boosting technology Tesla developed to create a magnetic field that powered a light bulb held a few feet away. The bulb had burnt out, but the capacitors that generated the field, along with small, purple lightning-like discharges from the top of the device, excited the gas left in the bulb and lit it. The appartus, which stands nearly 6-feet tall, including its wooden base, cost about $1,600 to make.

The crude set-up belied Tesla’s vision, which continues to gain traction through the multitude of wireless devices in use today and being developed for the future.

“Tesla had huge plans for wireless power and ultimately, it’s going to happen,” team member Jeff Hobbs said. “You’ll be able to charge your cell phone just by having the phone in the same room (as the wireless power source).

“You’ll come home some day and all the appliances in your house will be recharged.”

Other team members include Julio Aguilar, Matt Costanzi and Michael Santos.

The competition, held at the Engineering Sciences Building, was the finale to a senior capstone course. It featured a wide variety of inventions that will change or build upon the current landscape of communications, travel, computers, electrical engineering, biometrics and more.

Projects ranged from a computer application installed in a portable device that accesses information about popular monuments and tourist sites to an application that clients can use to apply their logos and designs onto a variety of products.

Alicia Green, Trevor Mathews and Robert Fernandez developed the “pocket tour guide” to help tourists who can’t afford a guide or who don’t want to be tied down to a schedule.

The team used hardware and software from Bug Labs to build the device that housed the application and incorporate its numerous functions. The device taps into various Web sites that provide a variety of facts and information about each site and displays the information. Green said the team wanted to do more but was limited by the technology available.

“We wanted to have sound files. I recorded my voice reading the information from the Web site but the memory wasn’t big enough,” she said.

The Blur of Remembrance team, which included Parvez Hussain, Will Kovalick and Shaun Reynolds, also had to adjust its project on the fly. They were originally approached to develop a project centered around customized graduation items such as caps and gowns, tassels and signs. They eventually realized that creating a Web-based business, including functions for shopping and transactions, was too big.

They instead developed an application that allows clients to customize products such as mugs and T-shirts with their own designs for free.

According to Hussain, other, similar sites charge for the use of the application in addition to the product.



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