Finding the Right Oscilloscope for Building a Tesla Coil (or Any Other Hobby Project)


I’ve always enjoyed tinkering and have been building stuff for as long as I can remember. Recently, I put together a desktop Tesla coil to wirelessly transmit electricity.

You've probably seen a Tesla coil in an old-school horror movie or at a science exhibit. The big ones look like giant metal spheres or rings on pillars that spark lightning bolts of electricity into the air. The desktop versions aren’t as dramatic, but you can still do cool things, like light up fluorescent bulbs without a connection. If you're not careful, you can give yourself a nasty shock.

I built the Tesla coil for fun, but it was also a way of learning more about electrical circuits. I graduated from high school three months ago and wrote my university entrance exams. I am now awaiting the results and would like to study biomechanical engineering. The competition is fierce, but I studied hard, earned high grades, and took the time to develop my design skills beyond what I learned in the classroom. 

Discovering the Limitations of Designing By Luck

Constructing the Tesla coil was a blast. I found the plans online and created the physical circuit, but tuning it was a bit of a challenge. To make it work, I had to match the electrical frequency of the primary and the secondary coil. I did this manually by moving and changing different parts of the design, but there was no way to measure the results accurately. The only way to test it was to power up the device and see if it sparked. I called this designing by luck, but I wanted more control over my measurements so I went online to look for a better approach. 

One of the first things I looked at was a YouTube video by ElectroBOOM. ElectroBoom is a cool guy who tests and builds a variety of electrical circuits, who also ends up electrocuting himself quite often. He is an excellent teacher of electrical engineering concepts and his videos are fun way to learn. 

Occasionally, Keysight Technologies provides ElectroBOOM equipment. One of the videos I watched showed how to use Keysight’s DSOX1102G programmable oscilloscope to tune a Tesla coil. As soon as I saw him using it, I knew I had to have one. I live on an island in the North Aegean Sea, so I had to order my oscilloscope from a store on the mainland.

The Keysight DSOX1102G is a beautiful piece of equipment, and affordable enough for a recent high school graduate like myself to purchase. It was better built with more features than the more expensive equipment from other manufacturers. I was on a tight budget, so I did my research. I couldn't have bought a better piece of equipment, even if I'd spent twice the money. 

Keysight Tutorials Helped Me Do More

ElectroBOOM wasn't the only source of information I found. Keysight also has a fantastic YouTube channel with various tutorials and instruction guides—minus the shocks and explosions, of course. Keysight’s website also hosts a massive user community to help users get the most out of their equipment. If you have a problem, there are thousands of users from around the world willing to help you solve it. 

I especially enjoy Keysight's videos because they are visual and employ everyday English, making it easy to understand for those of us who speak English as a second language. I learned a lot from these videos, and I hope to use my oscilloscope to build a full-scale prosthetic arm prototype activated by nerve impulses, which are low-power electrical signals firing at different frequencies.

By measuring minute differences in these biological signals, I hope to isolate the nerves that fire specific muscles in the human body, and then map these frequencies to the control system of a fully functioning mechanical arm. 

Embarking On a Path of Lifelong Learning

In a perfect world, I'd become a neurosurgeon, as I love that neurosurgery is a combination of medicine and engineering. After all, our bodies are complex biological machines that run on electrical signals. 

Though a medical education might be out of my reach, my second choice is medical engineering. I want to combine my interest in medicine with my love of machines to design better prosthetic limbs for amputees and other people in need. 

I'm sure my new school will have all kinds of high-end equipment in its engineering lab, but tinkering is my hobby, so I plan to build a proper workbench with a working oscilloscope to play with at home.

I want to spend my life acquiring new knowledge so I can make a difference. For now, I am happy to be studying engineering, but in the future I may switch to medicine. Whatever path I choose, I will continue to build things because this is the best way to learn.