Sunday, January 9, 2011

Electric Light Bulb - The Origin Of Modern Technology


Unless you live in the Hurricane Belt or Tornado Alley of the United States and have experienced lengthy periods without electricity, chances are you've been taking the luxury of artificial lighting for granted.

The electric light bulb seems to be a boring subject of conversation for most people, but without its invention, a lot of the things which make our life fun and exciting would not exist today. The concept of a central electrical power plant as well as power cables, generators, switches, sockets and wiring came about as there has been a need for a source of power to illuminate the early versions of electric lighting.

Most of modern day music, cinema, video games, the internet and countless other things that entertain and give us comfort today would not be around without electrical power. As such, we owe the lowly light bulb and the brilliant minds that helped pave the way for its development a bit more appreciation.

Thomas Alva Edison, the "Wizard of Menlo Park", is credited by the general public to be the father of the modern-day electric light bulb as we know it, but he is far from being the only one responsible for its research, development and production. Englishmen Sir Humphrey Davey and Joseph Wilson Swan, Canadians Henry Woodward and Matt Evans as well as several other brilliant scientists and researchers all contributed to the emergence of the modern day tungsten-based electric light bulb.
The first forms of artificial electrically-powered illumination were known as 'arc lamps' which needed significant amounts of electrical currents to stay operational. These arc lamps were excessively bright and thus were an impractical way to illuminate individual average-sized rooms.

Gas-powered lamps were the accepted norm during the late 1870s when the earliest attempts at incandescent lighting first surfaced. Incandescent lighting is the process of running an electrical current through a thin strip of resistant material, making it hot enough to glow and give off light without catching on fire from the excessive heat. Scientists eventually discovered that encapsulating the filament in a vacuum did away with oxygen-fueled ignition and this is how incandescent light bulbs are made today.
Platinum was the first metal that showed potential in producing light, bright enough to be used effectively as a filament. Sir Humphrey Davy and Edison himself both attempted to harness this potential but due to its high value, platinum didn't really become a practical choice for mass-produced electrical light bulbs.

In his quest for a viable medium for illumination in incandescent light bulbs, Edison tested numerous carbonized plant fibers- hickory, cedar, flax, boxwood, bamboo, even arranging the shipment of plant material from the far-off tropics. "Before I got through," says The Wizard from New Jersey in an interview, "I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material."

The first generation of incandescent light bulbs that were deemed practical enough for widespread use had carbon-based filaments but these thinned-out too fast and blackened the insides of the bulbs thus reducing illumination. It was the General Electric Company, itself a product of the merging of Edison's companies and the Thomas-Houston Electric Company, that found a low-cost way to manufacture tungsten filaments and got the first patent for the modern-day incandescent light bulb. Tungsten filaments burn out longer and glow brighter than the carbon ones that preceded it.

From the incandescent light bulb the more cost-efficient fluorescent lighting and longer-lasting halogen lights were developed. Today these find uses in several fields of society from live entertainment, photography, medicine, industrial and home applications. Without low-wattage lighting, which has been made possible by the invention of the electrical light bulb, our working hours would be shorter and hence production would slow down by the time the sun sets.

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