/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

Let's smash these light bulbs (and look inside)

Ever wonder how your light bulbs work? It's as good an excuse as any to smash the things with a hammer.

Ryan_Crist2.jpg
Ry Crist
ry-smash.jpg
1 of 11 Chris Monroe/CNET

There's a lot of science at work inside of your light bulbs, but if you want to take a closer look at how they work, you'll need to find a way inside.

Oh, look. A hammer!

incandescent-light-bulb.jpg
2 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Let's start at the beginning

Our first bulb is the humble imcandescent, an age-old light source invented by Thomas Edison and still used throughout the world today.

3 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Incandestruction

Inside, you'll find a tungsten filament suspended between two spires. Electricity travels up one spire, across the filament, and down the other spire. In the process, the filament heats up, glows, and emits light.

Incandescents work because tungsten is an incredibly durable chemical element with a melting point that's about as high as it gets. It can handle the heat, but it doesn't make for a very efficient light bulb, because all of that heat is really just wasted energy.

GE_halogen.jpg
4 of 11 Martin LaMonica/CNET

Halogens

This brings us to halogens, which are essentially the same thing as incandescents, but with an extra trick.

5 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Hasta la vista, halogen

Let's take a look inside!

halogen-exposed.jpg
6 of 11 Ry Crist/CNET

Extra hardware

As you can see, there's still a filament here, but it's encased in a little chamber. That chamber also contains halogen gases like bromine and iodine -- their job is to essentially recycle some of the evaporated tungsten back onto the filament after it burns off so that it can be used again. This extends the life of the bulb, and also helps it put out more light using less energy.

cfl-light-bulb.jpg
7 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Fluorescents

Up next, compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. You might have a few of these in your home -- ever wonder what happens when you hit one with a hammer?

8 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

See ya, CFL

For starters, you get a cool GIF like this one. You'll also see a little puff of gasses escaping -- those are the bulb's namesake fluorescent gasses. They include neon, argon, and mercury vapor, which gives off light when you pass electricity through it. Mercury is pretty toxic, so if you break one, you'll want to be pretty careful about how you clean it up.

led-light-bulb.jpg
9 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Consider the LED

If mercury isn't your thing, then consider an LED. It's an even more efficient lighting option, and it's totally mercury-free. But how does it work?

10 of 11 Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Later, LED

It's all in the name. "LED" stands for "light-emitting diode," and inside, you'll find a bunch of them. Each one is a tiny junction with two nodes. When electricity passes through, it jumps from one node to the other and gives off light in a process called electroluminescence.

light-bulb-smash-promo.jpg
11 of 11 Chris Monroe/CNET

Lights out

LEDs also promise to last years or even decades, which makes it more important than ever to buy the right bulbs for your home. That's why we test and review the latest light bulbs (and why, on occasion, we smash them, too).

More Galleries

The best Nintendo Switch games to play in 2021

More Galleries

The best Nintendo Switch games to play in 2021

40 Photos
Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more

More Galleries

Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more

67 Photos
Meet the new 2022 Honda Civic Si sedan

More Galleries

Meet the new 2022 Honda Civic Si sedan

25 Photos
2022 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro has rugged style and hybrid power

More Galleries

2022 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro has rugged style and hybrid power

74 Photos
2021 best new TV shows to watch, stream, obsess about

More Galleries

2021 best new TV shows to watch, stream, obsess about

63 Photos
The 51 best VR games

More Galleries

The 51 best VR games

53 Photos
Best dating apps of 2021

More Galleries

Best dating apps of 2021

13 Photos