Light Bulb Research

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Published: 20th May 2010
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The incandescent light bulb has many different purposes that can all be summed up to one simple use: They provide light. Such a simple idea has brought convenience and reliability to people all around the world for over 300 years. It is considered one of the most significant developments since the discovery of fire in that it created such a drastic change that today's citizens could not imagine life without this necessity.

What is some of the history behind the incandescent light bulb?

Addressing the question of who is being inventing the incandescent light bulb is indeed an interesting one. Researchers have compiled a list of approximately 22 inventors who have had incandescent lamps prior to Thomas Edison's supposed invention. It is believed that Edison's take on the incandescent light bulb was moreso outstanding than the rest due to three simple factors:

• It used a more effective incandescent material.

• It used a higher vacuum than anyone else was able to create.

• It utilized a more effective, high resistance lamp which made it possible to distribute this power from a single, centralized source and for this source to be economically viable.

How does the incandescent light bulb work?

A light bulb has a basic, simple structure to them. The base consists of a pair of metal contacts that connect to an electrical circuit. These contacts are attached to two separate stiff wires and these two wires are attached to a thin metal called a filament. This filament sits in the center of the bulb and is held up by something called a glass mount. These wires and the filament rest inside the glass bulb and is filled with either argon or other inert gasses.

An electric current flows between contacts by way of the wires and filament when the bulb itself is hooked up to a power supply. The electric current is the mass movement of electrons not tightly bound to an atom, or free electrons, from a negative area to a positive area.

When the electrons pass through, they bump along into the atoms making up the filament. This impact vibrates each affected atom, heating them up. A conductor can heat this up more easily when they are thinner because their thinner state allows them to be more resistance to an electron's movement.

Electrons that are bound to the vibrating atoms might temporary be boosted to that of a higher energy level. Falling back to normal levels causes them to release additional energy. This energy is released as photons. Metal atoms release infrared light photons. These are not visible to the human eye. Should they be heated to the proper temperature - which is about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit or 2,200 degrees Celsius - such as that in a light bulb, it will emit visible light.

What is the filament made of?

A light bulb's filament is made up of tungsten metal, which is long and incredibly thin. In an average light bulb, consisting of 60 watts, the filament measures about two meters long but is only 1/100th of an inch thick. It is arranged in a double coil so that it may fit in such a small space; this means the filament is wound up such that it makes more than a single coil and is then wound again to make a larger coil. In an average 60 watt bulb, this coil tends to be less than an inch long.

Incandescent light bulbs use tungsten more often than any other metal solely because it is the most ideal substance for this type of work.

As previously stated, metal must be heated to very high temperatures in order to emit visible light. A majority of metals will melt prior to reaching these temperatures. Tungsten, on the other hand, will catch on fire at these temperatures with the proper conditions. This, and its abnormally high melting temperature, is why light bulbs are manufactured with these types of filaments.

A reaction between these two chemicals is known as combustion. This occurs when one chemical reaches its ignition temperature. The light bulb houses its filament in a sealed chamber in order to prevent combustion. The first light bulbs used to have the air sucked out of it, creating a near vacuum, which is an area without any matter in it. Because there was no gaseous matter present, materials would not combust.

In today's modern light bulb, inert gasses are instead used.

To conclude, light bulbs are cheap, simple to use and effective, leading them to become a significant success. It may eventually give way to far more advanced technologies, however, as it is not energy efficient. Incandescent light bulbs give off the majority of their energy in carrying the light photons, leaving only 10 percent of the light to be visible.

This, of course, wastes electricity. Cooler light sources are available, like fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes, or LEDs. These do not waste energy and give off mostly visible light. For this reason, they are beginning to edge out the old incandescent light bulb.

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