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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

Light bulb review Review by Ami
54321

Awesome! Is the smoke from the graphite burning as it is conducted through the resisting filament until the oxygen is used up? Then it glows! It sure takes a lot of energy for this light bulb!

(Posted on March 14, 2012)

Students were DEFINITELY engaged!!! Review by Lydia
43211

My 6th-8th graders loved this experiment. After doing the 0.5mm lead their curiosity had them trying their own 0.7mm...and wondering if adding one more battery would help. I just attached insulated wire to some cheap alligator clips from RadioShack (I bought 2 types: the cheaper all metal ones actually worked better than the slightly nicer ones with insulated grips since the teeth were not as sharp, therefore breaking the lead less). The clips did get hot when doing it multiple times in a row, but this just shows that the energy is converted to multiple forms including light (EM) and heat (thermal). A previous review said Pentel lead didn't work, but it worked for my class.

(Posted on April 20, 2012)

didn't work despite troubleshooting Review by Cristy
14321

I could not get this to work. I did not have D batteries around, but I tried it with 8 or 9 C batteries, 1 or 2 big square lantern batteries, 8 and 16 AA batteries... basically lots and lots of battery combinations. I would see smoke, but now glowing. I tried a little motor between the clips to make sure my circuit was good, and it was fine. Tried with a jar and without a jar, even tried replacing the O2 in the jar with CO2 via vinegar/baking soda gas "poured" in to it. Put some Nichrome wire between the clips and got a little glow, but just orange wire. Nothing impressive. I would test this in advance to not end up with disappointed kids. I am a pretty disappointed 40-something!

(Posted on November 5, 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)

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)

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)

WOWIE Review by Cail
43211

Wow, i did this experiment times, it worked 8 times and i was very impressed. the thiker the lead, the better it works!!

(Posted on May 21, 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)

Amazing Experiment!!! Review by Sam
54321

My 10 year old niece loved it! I do have some suggestions -
1. Make sure your batteries are tightly connected. We did a test with a small fan to make sure the batteries were connecting. We even used two rules to make a splint to ensure the batteries remained in a tight formation.
2. We found it worked best with .9mm pencil refills. .7mm and .5mm also had good results but .3mm broke immediately on contact.
We used Pental brand refills available at Staples.
I would guess that those having trouble are not connecting the batteries together tightly.

(Posted on May 3, 2013)

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