I Love Lamp

deep sea coolness
foxfire - bioluminescent forest fungi

brought to you by chelsea schuyler

So bioluminescence is the coolest thing ever.   Glow in the dark lifeforms. That is genius, I mean that’s gotta be right in there between sliced bread and free sliced bread. But how does it work?  I feel like every documentary involving it sort of skirts the explanation.   “This animal has a radiant glow that comes from…something about cells or bacteria, but whatever, look how shiny!” and we’re supposed to be all mesmerized by the pretty lights.  And we are.  But now that the stupor has worn off, what indeed, is the deal?

But wait, how does anything create light?

I'm gonna go ahead and go with EUREKA!!

INCANDESCENT (from in– “within” + candescere “begin to glow, become white”) BULBS:  Incandescent bulbs go like this: so you take a tiny wire of a metal called Tungsten (6.5 ft long!) and coil it up real good (until it’s an inch long!).   Then you suspend it from a couple little wires and plug them into an electrical current.  Electricity, by the way, is just free electrons zooming from a negatively charged zone to a positively charged zone (even electrons think positive).  When these electrons reach the filament, they’re like MOVE IT PEOPLE and collide with the atoms of the filament along the way.  This epic, constant car crash causes the atoms of the filament to vibrate rapidly, i.e. heat up.

thank you How Stuff Works.com!

These tungsten atoms are like WHOA and their electrons briefly reach a higher energy level.  When they come back down, they release that extra energy as a light photons, only 10% of which is visible to us (the rest is heat-carrying infrared light).  Nobody can read Moby Dick for squat in that kind of lighting, so we have to really heat those babies up to make that 10% light a whole room.  To 4200 F’ing F degrees, in fact.  F as in Fahrenheit.  ing.  degrees.  HOT.  Twice as hot as lava!  Suck it volcanoes, who needs you when we have desk lamps!

Some metals would melt into a liquid at this heat, but Tungsten is bad ass.  (Ford, which has lost all of its credibility, borrows some from Tungsten, and named one of their cars after it).  But something that hot exposed to oxygen would spontaneously combust.   (Too much Moby Dick, too much Moby Dick!!)   So you encase it in a glass bulb with all the air sucked out.  No oxygen, no fire.  I presume that’s why bulbs explode when shattered, you know, likes in da movies.

Perfect system right? Well, you know how if you heat water to boiling on the stove, it starts to evaporate and fogs up your windows?  The same thing happens with metal.  An incandescent bulb heats the metal to its boiling point and with so much shaking going on in that filament, the occasional atom just gets bumped off and flies to the side of the glass wall.  That’s why old bulbs look all dark and spotty, they’re covered in evaporated metal.  And if you’ve ever forgotten your pot of boiling water on the stove like a good college student, you also know that if you heat it long enough, all the water will evaporate away.  The filament will too, except once the filament evaporates a full-on hole in itself, the electrical current is interrupted and the bulb is ‘burnt out.’

But if you fill that bulb with inert gas, when the atom vibrates out of the group it can hit a gas molecule and bounce back into the filament group where the cool kids are.   Some still get away though, and the filament will still evaporate to death eventually, but it will take a lot longer, like 900 hours.

That is your light bulb.   Which is not what we’re here to talk about.  Oh god, I’ve created a series.  Oh well.  Lava!

p.s. how many buddhists does it take to change a light bulb?  Two:  one to change it and one not to change it.  Thank you lightbulbjokes.com!



  1. Aaaand, you’ve also successfully skirted the issue, guess I’ll have to wait for the next episode…Cool to find out what the black junk on the inside of the bulb is, and 6 feet of filament? That’s like the intestines of the bulb!

    btw, atoms? electrons? energy levels? AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!


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