Development of Light


Light is an essential part of our lives, it has revolutionized the way we live. In the olden days, people did not have access to reliable light sources all day long as we do nowadays. They mainly depended on natural sources of light to help them with their daily activities, and when night fell each returned to their abode and rested till the following morning day. This unavailability of light restricted people's activities.

At first, early humans used fire as their light source at night, and the hearth in their homes was the center of domestic activities. Fire at the beginning could have been made by rubbing two flintstones together to create a spark, or by rubbing two sticks together to generate enough heat through friction to start a fire. Fire was used not only as a source of light, but also to cook food, keep people warm when it gets cold, help light torches and to scare animals from approaching at night. This use of fire may sound like it is no great feat to us living in the electronic age as we do, however, this was a great development that helped our early ancestors immensely.

Following fire, candles were invented and provided people with a light source that could be easily moved and used inside buildings and shelters, however it only provided faint light. It is believed that the Ancient Egyptians were the first to use candles, they soaked reeds in melted animal fat and then lit them, and they burned for some time. The ancient Romans were the ones who developed the wicked candle, but they were not the only to use it. Rolled papyrus was used to make the candles, they were dipped in melted beeswax or tallow, and then lit and used in homes. Candles and lamps went through many changes, but eventually other inventions were used to provide light.

It was William Murdoch who came up with the idea of the gas lamp while he was working at the Soho Foundry. He found that after coal was distilled, the coal gas could be quite efficient as a lighting source. It could also be easily transported through pipes to houses and buildings and provide the lighting needed for people. Murdoch lit his house in 1792 via this method, and it ended up catching on and becoming the mainstream for providing light. In 1807, Pall Mall in London was illuminated with gas lamps, the first street to be lit in such a manner. It was the most popular illumination method until electricity, the new kid on the block, came along.

The first electric light bulb was invented by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in 1860. However, he did not show his invention until 1878, since the filament in the bulb burned too quickly and therefore did not provide light for a long period of time, he did end up solving this issue but even with Swan's improvements the light bulb remained too expensive and impractical for public use. It was Edison who had announced in 1878 that his company will produce the first practical light bulb, and true to his word, he did. It was also his company to set up the first power station that could generate and provide electricity for an entire area.

If you are interested to find out more about the scientists who contributed to the development of the light bulb, check the following video:

It is thanks to these scientists that we can enjoy our lives to the extent we do after night falls. So every time you turn on the light, take a moment and think about how incredible that small action is.


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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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