A 96-year-old light bulb: It's still going
March 25, 1997
Web posted at: 11:43 p.m. EST (0443 GMT)
From Correspondent Don Knapp
LIVERMORE, California (CNN) -- It is no great surprise that
the fire bell at the Livermore Fire Station, installed in
1876, still works.
But, surprise! So does the fire station's nightlight, a
turn-of-the-century light bulb that Chief Lynn Owens claims
has been burning practically nonstop since 1901.
(87 K / 7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The long-lived light bulb illuminates today's quest for a
cheaper, more durable artificial light source. Why don't the
light bulb companies make bulbs like the fire station's bulb
anymore? One researcher suggests maybe they never did.
Steven Johnson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says
the choice has always been the hot, shorter burn of
efficiency or the cooler burn of longevity.
He rejects the claim made by some: that manufacturers program
bulbs to die after a short life so consumers will have to
keep buying them.
Rather, he says bulb makers are responding to consumer
"They can make it very dim to last for a very long period of
time, or they can make it bright, like you the consumer want
it, and last for 750 or a thousand hours," he said.
New technology is bright, economical
If you want the latest efficiency, Johnson says, look to
compact fluorescent lamps, which give more light for less
Although the bulbs are oddly shaped and the initial outlay
per bulb is relatively high, millions have chosen them over
standard incandescent bulbs over the past few years. And
with the help of power company cash incentives, consumers can
even partly offset the high purchase price for each bulb.
By contrast, the popular tungsten halogen lamps are one of
the least efficient alternatives. About 40 million of these
lamps, with their bright, hot lights, have been sold. By
some estimates, they ate up all the energy saved by the
Johnson's group has come up with a lamp that looks just like
the popular halogen models, but uses the more efficient
And yet another type of bulb may be the wave of the future:
the "microwave lamp."
"It's exciting, sulfur in a quartz envelope with a microwave
radiation, coming from a magnetron very similar to the
magnetron in your home microwave oven," he said. In other
words, you put some gas in a bulb and zap it, and it lights
Such technologies are of no interest to the staff of the
Livermore Fire Station, however.
It's not efficiency they worry about, but longevity, as they
wonder how much longer their little night light will give off
its warm glow.
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