New Age Lighting

A snappy introduction to a new generation in lighting technology

Gone are the days of the glorious incandescent bulb from the times of Thomas Edison. Nowadays the transition away from these instantly recognisable objects signifies a change in global environmental awareness, with the incandescent bulb being the worst offending lighting device.

Here we take a quick look at some more advanced lighting technology.

Typical small halogen bulbs for lamps

The Halogen Bulb

Halogen bulbs are basically the same as incandescent bulbs, but have added halogen gases to increase efficiency. These operate at much higher temperatures, and for this reason it is generally a bad idea to substitute halogen bulbs into torches designed for incandescent bulbs, unless you want to end up with a puddle of plastic at your feet.

I got a few of these bulbs and did a 5-minute lash up job, as seen in the picture. These bulbs operate on 12V, and are rated at 50W each. The bundle there is therefore a hefty 200W mini light monster.

Upon power up, the first feeling is that the heat is terribly intense. You can feel it about a meter away.

I've killed ants about 10cm away just with the heat that's emitted from this thing. If left on for more than half a minute, the plastic base would start to melt.

The CCFL tube

I bet you've never even wondered what kind of lamp lights up your computer monitor - a CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent light) does that job.

Here is one I got a while ago... Pure white light emission, and much more efficient than the good old edison bulb.


To power these things up, you need an inverter circuit. This is simply a circuit which turns low voltage DC into higher voltage AC to supply the tube. In many ways, this is a simplified version of the Penguin's Lab fluoro-tube driver.

The Sodium Vapour Bulb

If you really like yellowish light, then this bulb is for you. Low pressure sodium vapour bulbs are the most efficient light bulbs that we have, and in fact even surpasses the efficiency of high-tech LED's.

As seen in the graph... sodium light is very close to the maximum sensitivity point of the human eye, one of the reasons why they boast such high efficiencies.

Sodium lights are found in streetlights all over the world.

(Image courtesy of LampTech UK)

I happened to find a nice collection of 8 sodium vapour lamps at the uni that noone wanted anymore. Out of the 8, only 2 were still operational, so the rest were kept for a bit of glass smashing fun later on.

Sodium lamps have a long warm up time, about 5 to 10 minutes, so I imagine it would really suck to have one as a desk lamp.

Here is one of the operational sodium lamps during the warm-up phase. I don't recall how exactly I rigged up the driver for this.

And during proper operation....

Sodium light is the worst for colour identification due to its monochromatic output. Everything that is illuminated by sodium light just loses its colour information.

The Light Emitting Diode (LED)

Perhaps the most sophisticated light emitting device to date, the LED has quickly made a large scale entry into all kinds of products on-market. Indicator LEDs are found on electrical equipment, whilst high power LED arrays are being installed in homes and cars.

A relatively newer generation of LEDs known as Luxeon LEDs offer seriously high brightness in a seriously compact package. Pictured is a Luxeon I bought a while ago mounted on a makeshift heatsink (used transistor).

The Luxeon I bought came with a current limiting driver board, seen pictured here along with the Luxeon and associated heatsink. This particular model is rated at 5W and dissipates plenty of heat while operational.

The light output is tremendously bright and is painful to look at with the naked eye.

These LEDs are quite fun as they very close to an ideal point-source of light. This means all sorts of eerie shadows can be produced - such as the one here with a 'duplicated' apple.





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