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Part visionary, part mad scientist, and absolute genius, Tesla should be as famous as Edison - but he's been largely forgotten. Kurt talks with Samantha Hunt about her novel The Invention of Everything Else.
Then, Tesla's biggest innovation was introducing alternating current as the standard for modern electric power, breaking Thomas Edison's monopoly on DC power. Mike Daisey is an author and monologuist who performs a one-man show about Tesla, and he tells us how AC/DC isn't just a band.
Next, a lot of us learned that Guglielmo Marconi invented radio, but Nikola Tesla transmitted electromagnetic waves before Marconi - the Supreme Court decided the case in 1943.
After that, Tesla was a flamboyant character who held salons where he played fast and loose with technology. Mike Daisey tells the story of Tesla, Mark Twain, and an X-ray gun.
Following that, Samantha Hunt describes the turning point in Tesla's life when he began acting like a mad scientist, almost taking a page from the movies. And biologist Vincent Pieribone thinks that Hollywood's most dangerous fantasy about "mad scientists" is that scientists have any power at all.
Then, Mike Daisey completes his life story of Tesla with this tale about the scientist's real Dr. Strangelove moment: inventing the ultimate superweapon. But did it work?
Next, much of science today is grant-dependent and discourages dreamy, out-of-box thinking - because who wants to fund mistakes? Samantha Hunt warns Kurt that Tesla's visionary approach to science is all but extinct.
And finally, all over the country, amazing science is happening without institutional or government funding. Matt Cavnar talked to inventors in garages, basements, a Quonset hut, even NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab to see what home inventors are doing in the 21st century. [Broadcast Date: November 29, 2008]