Another Teacher Burns Student With Tesla Coil

It seems John Freshwater is not the only teacher who thinks it’s okay to use a Tesla coil to burn things into their students’ arms. A science teacher in Salem, Oregon did the same thing to more than one student and was actually arrested for it, though it hasn’t been decided whether there will be files charged.

An Oregon science teacher has been accused of causing electrical burns on the hands and arms of several students in connection with an in-class demonstration last week.

Samuel Dufner, 37, was arrested Tuesday on two counts of criminal mistreatment. He teaches science, including physical and marine science at South Salem High School in Salem.

Dufner was taken to the Marion County jail, where he posted $2,000 bail. He has been placed on administrative leave by the Salem-Keizer School District.

Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau said Wednesday that his office did not immediately file paperwork to arraign Dufner, and that an arraignment had not been scheduled as of Wednesday afternoon. An arraignment is a court proceeding in which an accused person is formally charged with crimes before a judge.

Beglau said it was incorrect to say that charges against Dufner had been dropped, and that the DA’s office was still gathering evidence.

How does a science teacher not know this is horrible? It isn’t enough to say that the students volunteered, this should never happen. I don’t know if criminal charges are warranted, but the parents certainly have cause to sue. And he certainly ought to be fired.

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  • azpaul3

    “He was making, like, smiley faces and stars, but some students wanted to see how long they could hold it there,” Ward said. “Obviously, the longer he held it down the stronger the mark.”

    Most of the students in second period volunteered to be marked by the coil, which didn’t hurt, she said.

    “Almost every student did it, and everyone was laughing when they went up there,” she said. “Nobody was sad or upset. It didn’t hurt at all.”

    Birr said that at least one student asked Dufner to write “I (heart) mom,” on his arm.

    An investigation of the classroom demonstrations continued Wednesday, Birr said, and the total number of students who were affected by them had not been determined. Birrestimated there were about 30 students in each class, and according to students, the coil demonstration occurred in at least four class periods.

    China Romero shows what’s left of a burn on her hand from a Tesla coil during a science demonstration. (Photo: Special to the Statesman Journal)

    A Tesla coil is a transformer used as a source of high-voltage, high-frequency alternating-current electricity. It is commonly found in science classrooms and often can be used for entertainment.

    Eduardo Montes, 15, was in Dufner’s first-period physical science class on April 30 and said at least seven people he knew asked to be shocked by the coil.

    Montes said he chose not to participate in the end-of-the class demonstration, but it looked like the students were having fun.

    “They were laughing,” Montes said. “I don’t think (Dufner) was trying to harm anyone. He was just making the class fun.”

    Ooo, making class fun and harmless. That is horrible!

    How does a science teacher not know this is horrible?


    But in the simple minds of stupid people I can see where this is tantamount to willful abuse. Like forcibly cramming a kids head full of geometry theorems. Truly horrible.

  • blf

    Mr Tesla was a Russike. Therefore, a commie. Also a furrinor, hence a nazi. And an atheistie. So his “coil” is all part of a moolsin plot to implant Teh Gay. Conveniently ahead of Jade Helm 15, Clinton 16, and UN Agenda 21 17!

  • Ellie

    How did I manage to get through science classes without a teacher volunteering to burn marks on my body? I can imagine some teachers wanting to – some of my classmates were a bit rowdy, but none asked if we’d like to be burned.

    Teenagers are not very bright. That’s why so many accidents happen when one of them says, “Hey! Watch this!” The teacher is supposed to be smarter than the students, and should encourage learning and common sense, not “Hey! Watch this!” I don’t know about criminal charges, because IANAL. I certainly wouldn’t want him as a teacher for anyone in my family.

  • Michael Brew

    I need to get myself a Tesla coil. Because reasons.

  • dingojack

    So Mr Dufner – You’d better stay after class and write out several billion times the definition of ‘informed consent’.



  • Modusoperandi

    Tesla would be rolling over in his grave, if he wasn’t an immortal in a robot body.

  • whheydt

    Re: blf @ #2….

    Actually…Nikola Tesla was a Serbian, born in what is now Croatia. It was part of the Austrian Empire at the time (1856). He immigrated to the US in 1884.

  • dan4

    @1: There are people who think burning someone with a Tesla coil is equivalent to teaching them geometry, and then there are people who make sensible and well-thought-out arguments.

  • Rick Pikul


    You are confusing Nikoli for his son Robo.

  • llewelly

    I do not agree that a teacher who let their enthusiasm run away with them should be fired over what seems like a small injury. Disciplined, yes, because it’s a sign of poor attention to safety issues. But not fired. And I don’t see this as analogous to the Freshwater case, because there is no hint of any bullying.

    And I can’t agree with the analogy with geometry lessons. It’s necessary to do things that encourage enthusiasm in students, but that does not imply those things are lessons.

  • ArtK


    I, on the other hand, can agree that a teacher who let their enthusiasm get away from them should be fired. It shows a massive lack of judgment even if the injury seems small. The supposed adult in the room should be thinking “what could go wrong” and acting appropriately. Someone with a bare modicum of sense should realize that this would turn out badly. They should be aware that teenagers cannot give meaningful consent to something like this. I know that had this happened to one of my sons, I would have been livid; angry at both the teacher and my child.

  • lorn

    Back in the day it used to be pretty common that the science teacher would use a vibratory step-up coil to generate high voltage, low-current potential and to have groups of perhaps a dozen students hold hand to complete the circuit. You could use a Tesla coil, or Van de Graaff generator but the vibratory coil was preferred, in part, because it was small, light, rugged, very portable, and cheap.

    Seemed safe enough at the time. I suppose a kid with a heart condition might be worse for wear … as in die. And those terminals could get a bit warm … a small second degree burn at worse. We also had peanut butter cookies in the cafeteria and playground equipment that regularly broke bones. Different times.

    The dance of the electricity circles demonstrated circuits and was considered something of a safety lesson in that it showed that you only got shocked when you placed yourself between the source and where the current wanted to go. It is vital to keep track of your grounding status. That last point is important as students moved on to more powerful circuits. We had fly-back transformers in the TV repair shop and spark plug circuits in the automotive area.

    Now, training electrical apprentices I suggest that working circuits live, safe an efficient if done right, that they check their ground status by touching in a safe manner, back of hand and sweeping motion, a 120v to ground source. Failing means a momentary shock. It also means that an uncontrolled exposure in the same situation might have killed them. Typical circuits I work on now are all low-voltage and low-power, under 600v and 100,000 SCA, by industrial standards.

    Sometimes we work live medium-voltage circuits without a lot of protective gear, which tends to slow things down, by providing an double-insulated platform. A good bit of medium and high-voltage work gets done with bare hands working off a helicopter or other ungrounded platform. As long as the aircraft stays well clear of the tower, or any other potential ground, like a damp kite string or stray wire, you are safe. You have to know, with absolute certainty, what is hot and what is grounded and make sure you don’t get between them.

    I’m not sure how I should think of this situation. Science is best taught, IMHO, as a hands-on experience. Get dirty, a few scrapes and small superficial burns are a small price to pay to open a mind to science and how the physical world works. I grew up trooping through the woods. For a while I got stitches so often I was on first name basis with the corpsman who was doing most of the sewing.

    We used to get worms for fishing by cutting the end off a discarded extension cord and attaching the neutral and hot to a couple of big nails stuffed into a pieces of broom handle. Stuff the nails into the damp dirt about two feet apart , turn on the power, and the worms climb right out. In under five minutes you had all the worms you could use. Turn off the power and collect your prize. And yes, we sometimes were careless and got shocked. I remember a few burn far worse than those depicted in the article. A friend’s finger nail never did grow back entirely right. He was much more careful after that bit of nastiness.

  • azpaul3

    #8, dan4,

    There are people who think burning someone with a Tesla coil is equivalent to teaching them geometry…

    Which is correct in the sense that both are harmless. The equivalence is not total, however, since geometry theorems are a hell of lot less fun.

  • dan4

    @13: “Which is correct…” Uh, no. If you burn someone, then that, by very definition, is not “harmless.” I see I had you pegged wrong when I implied (in my first reply to you) that you do not make well-thought-out arguments (*rolls eyes*).

  • dan4

    …and no, it does NOT matter that the students idiotically volunteered to be burned. That still fits the definition of “harmed.”

  • azpaul3

    Sorry dan4, “harmless” is exactly what happened regardless of your oversensitive objection.

  • dan4

    “…’harmess’ is exactly to what happened…”

    To idiots who don’t understand the meaning of the word “harmless.”

  • dan4

    Some dude who lectures people on being simple-minded and stupid thinks there are such things as “harmless” electrical burns. You can’t make this shit up.

  • Teve Tory

    I would no more freak out about this happening to my kid, than if the coach had taught him how to ride a bike and he got a skinned knee.

    I can see Helicopter Parents freaking out about this, though.

  • magistramarla

    I’m glad that I learned chemistry in the early ’70s. The things that we did in our honors chem class would never be allowed today.

    We declared “war” on the honors physics class across the hall, and many entertaining, but probably dangerous experiments ensued. They built a catapult and took potshots at us as we left our classroom. We retaliated by making contact explosives, which we painted on surfaces in their classroom while they were in the library. (I was the advance scout for that since I worked in the library after school and had access to the library schedule). The screams of “OW!” as they touched the mild explosives were music to our ears.

    We did many other fun and relevant experiments that made even this non-science person learn to love it and remember quite a bit of it, even after all these years. I also remember playing with the Van de Graaff machine, getting all charged up and going out into the hall to grab my boyfriend, who was just coming out of the biology classroom.

    I agree with Lorn. Sometimes science does need to be a bit dirty and hands-on. Our society has gotten too sue-happy to allow kids to learn the way we did.

  • blf

    whheydt@7, Pfffffft! Those are your so-called “facts”. The thugs’s real really made-up real and hence true and correct facts are alls thats matters (but be sure to checks everys day to see what that day’s true and correct facts is).

  • heddle

    magistramarla #20,

    I love it!

  • Kermit Sansoo

    About 1967 our physics/chemistry teacher used to hook up the van der Graaff generator to the doorknob when the class officially started. anyone showing up late got shocked. Some kids waited in the hall just so they could be the ones to open the door after it was prepared. This teacher needs to be educated on currently acceptable safety standards, not fired.

  • abb3w

    Hm. About 1980, I recall an upper elementary school teacher who had an old (circa) Korean War surplus radio phone pack generator that he used to give volunteers a mild shock (and demonstrate the electrical concepts of “series” and “parallel” along the way), probably much like lorn mentions. In hindsight, it wouldn’t be allowed today for safety reasons. On the other hand, it’s probably better than a lot of currently popular ways to express macho masochism, and educational.

    Controlled exposure to stupidity may help innoculate, but that’s a tricky balance line to walk. Between the balance of parental discretion, legal liability, and practical education, this seems the sort of thing better left for an after-school “Mad Science” club — with parental permission slips.

  • congenital cynic

    Big difference between a Van de Graff Generator and a Tesla Coil. We have Van de Graff Generators in the lab that generate in excess of 200kV, but the current is pico amps or nano amps (it’s current that kills, and this is extremely low current), and they are not harmful, though if you discharge them into your finger tips it does sting a bit. But depending on the Tesla coil you may be doing damage that you can’t even see. You can get internal RF burns from them that are unseen, and may not be felt right away. We have had students (university) build them for projects and at the scale of coils we were making you did NOT want to be shocked by the coil. There were strict rules about when the coil could be operated, and the location of a ground plate. A lot of high school science teachers would not really understand in any meaningful way how the tesla coil works or perhaps how much danger the arc presents. I don’t think the teacher should be fired, but he’s an idiot.