Former Anoka resident Patrick O’Donoghue and two other design team members won the People’s Choice Award at the Oregon State University 13th annual Engineering Expo for their Tesla coil and plasma speaker sound system presentation.
O’Donoghue joined with students Ratanak So and Daniel Shattuck to make music using Tesla coils and plasma speakers for their senior project. This successful project received the People’s Choice Award, which was voted on by high school students, professors and other visitors to the Engineering Expo. Around 5,000 people attended the expo.
“People’s choice probably means the most showy and flashy,” O’Donoghue said with a laugh. “There were a lot of other projects there that were good, some that weren’t as showy or flashy.”
Their project used solid state Tesla coils to project an electrical arc that played the tunes of “Party Rock Anthem,” Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” “The Imperial March” and several other tunes through plasma speakers.
The Tesla coil produces a two-inch electrical arc. Electrical arcs produce heat and by controlling the amount of heat that the arcs produce, the team was able to create different pressure waves. These pressure waves resulted in the different musical notes that the human ear can hear from the Tesla coil and through the plasma speakers.
“A normal Tesla coil just makes a big arc, the ones that make music are a little more difficult. This one is a solid state Tesla coil and that’s a little bit more complicated to build than a standard,” O’Donoghue said.
Putting together a senior project is a requirement for all engineering seniors at Oregon State University. O’Donoghue, So and Shattuck formed their team in fall 2011 to begin the project. While all three of them are electrical engineers, Shattuck and O’Donoghue are also musicians. O’Donoghue is a graduate of Anoka High School and played cello during his time there. He said the idea of making music with Tesla coils was one of the ideas Shattuck suggested that had stuck with the group.
While engineers have made music with Tesla coils before and have made plasma speakers before, O’Donoghue said they are the first team that he knows of to bring the two together.
O’Donoghue’s main role in the project was making the plasma speaker. In his five years at OSU, O’Donoghue has been interested in electrical engineering with a focus on power systems. This project suited his interests because of the high voltage, and he plans to use his engineering skills in the area of power in the future.
Power and alternative energy are what first drew O’Donoghue to the engineering field. While attending Anoka High School he took part in the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program.
After high school graduation, O’Donoghue held a number of different jobs including sales, landscaping and factory work. He also received a two-year degree from Hennepin Technical College. He later went back to school for business, but changed his plans after writing a paper about vehicles that run on alternative fuel or energy.
“I got excited about technology and what was going on there… I took the big leap and went back to school for engineering,” O’Donoghue said.
This summer O’Donoghue will be an intern at Hewlitt-Packard Company in Albany, Ore.
Bethany Kemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org