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A Glowing Potato Peeler Makes A Nernst Lamp


Over the last couple few decades there has been a great shift in electric lighting, first towards more compact and efficient fluorescent lights, and then towards LED bulbs. The old incandescent bulbs, while giving a pleasant light, were not by any means efficient. Digging into the history books the incandescent bulb as we know it was not the only game in town; while suspending a filament in a vacuum stopped it from being oxidized there was another type of light that used a ceramic element at atmospheric pressure. The Nernst lamp required its filament to be heated before it would conduct electricity, and [Drop Table Adventures] has made one using the blade from a ceramic potato peeler.

The right ceramic is not the problem given the ease of finding ceramic kitchen utensils, but two problems make a practical light difficult. The copper connections themselves become too hot and oxidize, and preheating the ceramic with a blowtorch is difficult while also keeping an even heat. Finally, they do manage a self-sustaining lamp, albeit not the brightest one.

If you think the Nernst lamp sounds familiar, maybe it’s because we covered it as part of our retrotechtacular series.

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