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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
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

Type of pencil lead is important Review by Ruth TenBroek
54321

I'm preparing for a science class on electricity, so my boys and I tried building the light bulb. The graphite kept breaking without glowing at all(we used Pentel brand Super Hi-Polymer Lead). I went back to the store and bought a different brand(Papermate), and it worked perfectly!!

(Posted on March 21, 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)

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)

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)

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)

Lightbulb Experiment Review by Dawn Hardy
43211

My second graders used .7mm leads and the experiment worked beautifully! We actually did the experiment a few times using different battery combinations with interesting results. There really is a difference in brands. This was great!

(Posted on May 17, 2012)

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)

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)

spectacular results Review by al domz
43211

Me and my group mates presented to our class as part of our simple process demonstration. Everyone was amazed by our presentation. Instead of the d size batteries we used the square battery of a spot light....it really worked and the pencil lead was actually really hot..one of my group mates touched it out of curiosity and got a small burn...i already warned him but he did not listen...anyways the presentation was successful.

(Posted on July 19, 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)

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