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Build a Light Bulb - Circuit Science

Create a battery-powered light bulb from household items

Rating: 43211

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When you are conducting experiments and demonstrations using electricity, you'll use the science of circuits. Amazing things are possible with circuits including alarms, radios, and lights. In the Build a Light Bulb experiment, you'll use household items to construct a complete circuit that results in a homemade light bulb.

Materials
  • Eight D-sized batteries
  • Mason jar or other clear glass
  • Electrical tape
  • Pie pan
  • Scissors
  • Toilet paper tube
  • Mechanical pencil refills
  • Two sets of small alligator clips

Videos

  • Build a Light Bulb - Sick Science! #079
Print Experiment

Experiment

  1. Using electrical tape, fix eight D-sized batteries together, end-to-end, with the positive ends connected to the negative ends. You've made a super battery!
  2. Use scissors to cut a toilet paper tube to a height that will fit comfortably (leave plenty of room) inside of a mason jar or other clear glass.
  3. Tape one positive and one negative alligator clip to one end of the toilet paper tube. Make sure the clip is facing up, away from the rest of the toilet paper tube.
  4. Tape the tube with the clips attached to a pie pan so that it stands upright, with the clips facing up.
  5. Carefully clip a mechanical pencil refill between the two alligator clips. The pencil refill needs to be in one piece, so be gentle.
  6. Place a mason jar or clear glass over the top of the toilet paper tube stand.
  7. Touch the other positive and negative ends of the alligator clips to the ends of your super battery.
  8. Give the circuit a moment to circulate the electricity and… voila! The pencil refill begins to glow.

How Does It Work?

When you touch the free ends of the alligator clips to your "super battery," you form a complete circuit. That means electricity flows freely through the entire apparatus that you have just built. This flow of electricity channels through the graphite-based mechanical pencil refill that is connected by alligator clips. The flowing electricity has a noticeable effect on the pencil refill. The thin refill begins to glow and give off smoke. This happens because the electricity heats the graphite refill to an incredible temperature. So, if you are hoping to save some money by using your own homemade light bulbs around the house,stick with the store bought ones. It's not as cool, but it is safer.

Customer Reviews

Nice Activity, Chance to Experiment Review by Bill Polacheck
54321

I used this activity early on in my electricity unit in sixth grade. I did it under an exhaust hood out of fear of tripping smoke alarms, but I don't think much smoke would have escaped. I initially tried using two six-volt lantern batteries tied together but it didn't work. Any idea why?

(Posted on March 15, 2012)

great Review by Eva
54321

just like the bulb in the microwave experiment, this is great. We are so accustomed to ordinary bulbs, it is great fun to see the variations on the everyday reality.

(Posted on March 14, 2012)

It worked! Review by Mrs. A
43211

When I pushed tightly with the clips against the battery ends, the lead broke immediately. But when I barely made contact with the clips and the batteries it worked perfectly. The graphite glowed brightly for about 15 seconds. Very little smoke, but I used C batteries which might have made the difference. I tried it with 0.7 mm lead and it would not work. Great demonstration!

(Posted on March 22, 2012)

It was amazing! Review by Gwen W.
43211

We used a 6v latern battery and it worked great! It burned for a long time! It's so cool!
Julia, age 9
Alex, age 6

(Posted on March 4, 2013)

Perfect Timing! Review by Amy Lyttle
54321

I have just started teaching electricity and this will be a fantastic demo to add to my lesson!

(Posted on March 14, 2012)

Question Review by Student
43211

I tried it and it did work, but have a question, how does the energy transfer through the lead? Or why does it transfer?

(Posted on March 26, 2012)

great Review by MILE
54321

tHIS PROJECT IS LEGIT

(Posted on April 25, 2012)

Brand Matters Review by Sarah
54321

We tried this experiment with different batteries and different brands of lead. We found that Duricell batteries worked the best and the Pentel HB lead worked the best.

(Posted on April 9, 2013)

Lots of Trial and Error Review by Richard Moore
43211

I noticed the first reviewer had trouble getting this to work. I did as well. I went back and forth to the office supply store to buy various brands and widths of lead. Still didn't work! After 3 hours I simply gave up.
The next morning before school I taped together 10 D batteries, made sure my wires were conducting, used Papermate .5mm lead, used new tight alligator clips, and a much smaller jar. Worked perfectly! I used .7mm as well. Then I used a very thick lead shaved from an HB pencil. It took 18 volts, but worked. Couple this with Time Magazine's Man of the Year article on Thomas Edison and you've got a pretty good lesson in reading, critical thinking, and of course, science.

(Posted on December 11, 2012)

impressive, but hard to get to work Review by Science lover
43211

10 of the 12 pencil leads we used broke immediately with a puff of smoke. Only two worked (for about 10 seconds). It was impressive, but it would be a good idea to buy extra pencil leads. I will also try thicker ones next time also, to see if that makes any difference

(Posted on March 16, 2012)

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