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Eponymously Yours, W. Skeffington Higgins
 
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Friday, October 19th, 2007

Time Event
5:49p
Zeusaphone: The Origin of the Word
As I write this, Google has 2770 hits for "zeusaphone" and 46 for the variant spelling "zeusophone."

Not bad for a word that didn't exist four months ago.

As you may know, high-voltage hobbyists have recently developed a so-called solid-state method for driving a Tesla coil. The pulse rate can be increased or decreased, so the sound of "lightning bolt" discharges from the coil have a varying tone. Think of it as a series of rapidly repeated thunderclaps.

I know Jeff Larson—we both work at Fermilab—and Jeff has introduced me to other Teslaphiles. Now and then, Jeff puts on a public demonstration, with wirelessly flickering fluorescent lamps, sparkling CDs, and giant arcs of barely-tamed lightning delighting crowds.

On the evening of 9 June 2007, Jeff set up a demonstration at Duckon, a science fiction convention in Naperville, Illinois. He was joined by Steve Ward, who has built one of the first "singing" Tesla coils. Jeff put his coil through its paces, which was impressive enough. But when Steve's device started playing music, it added a new dimension to the experience. Naturally, the audience went wild.

Several of us shot videos of the performance. One such video was posted to the Internet, and soon became the hottest thing on Youtube [footnote 1].

Around 19 June, in a phone call, I was describing the musical coil and the performance to another of Jeff's friends, Prof. Barry Gehm of Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas.

"...so the lightning is actually making the music," I said.

"Ah," said he, "then you could call it a Zeusaphone."

On 21 June, I reported Barry Gehm's neologism to a mailing list, and also e-mailed a copy to Steve Ward. Steve loved the name, quickly sought Barry's approval to use the name for his device, and just as quickly received it.

So that's how "Zeusaphone" was born, and how the world came to know about it.

As I wrote to Steve: "The Net is buzzing (so to speak) with talk about your performance. People who weren't at Duckon are envious of those who were. Perhaps it will all be forgotten the next time a kitten learns to flush a toilet on camera, but for now, your machine is a star..."

Meanwhile, in the Upper Peninsula, Dan Butler-Ehle posted this, also on 21 June, in response to my mentioning the Zeusaphone:

"Hee hee. When I showed the clip to my wife yesterday, I told her the device should be called a 'Thoremin.'"

This is also an excellent suggestion (and it has 48 Google hits).

On 16 August, after "Zeusaphone" had been in circulation a while, Steve Klec in Los Angeles registered "zeusaphone.com" for his business selling Tesla coil products.

Jeff Larson has now built a Zeusaphone of his own. On 8 September 2007, Jeff and Steve Ward demonstrated the first public duet at the "Lightning on the Lawn" festival in Baraboo, Wisconsin. And I'm sure there are more adventures ahead.

In fact, I'm positive.

Footnote 1: Since artificially-induced plasmas are involved, I mean this literally.

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