Lamps emit light when an electric current passes through them.
All of the lamps shown on this page have a thin wire filament which becomes very hot
and glows brightly when a current passes through it. The filament is made from a metal
with a high melting point such as tungsten and it is usually wound into a small coil.
Filament lamps have a shorter lifetime than most electronic components because eventually
the filament 'blows' (melts) at a weak point.
Lamp Circuit Symbols
There are two circuit symbols for a lamp, one for a lamp used to provide illumination
and another for a lamp used as an indicator. Small lamps such as torch bulbs can be used for
both purposes so either circuit symbol may used in simple educational circuits.
Lamp used for lighting (e.g. car headlamp or torch bulb)
Lamp used as an indicator (e.g. warning light on a car dashboard)
Selecting a Lamp
There are three important features to consider when selecting a lamp:
Voltage rating - the supply voltage for normal brightness.
Power or current rating - small lamps are usually rated by current.
Lamp type - please see the types below.
The voltage and power (or current) ratings are usually printed or embossed on the body of a lamp.
This is the supply voltage required for normal brightness. If a slightly higher voltage
is used the lamp will be brighter but its lifetime will be shorter.
With a lower supply voltage the lamp will be dimmer and its lifetime will be longer.
The light from dim lamps has a yellow-orange colour.
Torch lamps pass a relatively large current and this significantly reduces the output
voltage of the battery. Some voltage is used up inside the battery driving the large
current through the small resistance of the battery itself (its 'internal resistance').
As a result the correct voltage rating for a torch lamp is lower than the normal
voltage of the battery which lights it!
For example: a lamp rated 3.5V 0.3A is correct for a 4.5V battery (three 1.5V cells)
because when the lamp is connected the voltage across the battery falls to about 3.5V.
Power or current rating
This is the power or current for the lamp when connected to its rated voltage.
Low power lamps are usually rated by their current and high power lamps by their power.
It is easy to convert between the two ratings:
P = I × V or I = P / V
P = power in watts (W) I = current in amps (A) V = voltage in volts (V)
A lamp rated 3.5V 0.3A has a power rating P = I × V
= 0.3 × 3.5 = 1.05W
A lamp rated 6V 0.06A has a power rating P = I × V
= 0.06 × 6 = 0.36W
A lamp rated 12V 2.4W has a current rating I = P / V
= 2.4 / 12 = 0.2A
E10 MES lamps
MES = Miniature Edison Screw.
These are the standard small lamps. The bulb diameter is usually about 10mm, tubular bulbs are also available.
E10 MES lamps have one contact on the base and the body forms the other contact.
They are available with a good range of voltage and power (or current) ratings.
E5 LES lamps are smaller than E10 MES and have a bulb diameter of about 5mm
(LES = Lilliput Edison Screw).
These have a bayonet style fitting, like a standard mains lamp in the UK.
They have two contacts on the base so the metal body is not connected in the circuit.
SBC lamps have high power ratings (24W for example) and their bulbs are large with a
diameter of up to about 40mm. Note the two filament arrangements in the lamps shown,
horizontal on the left, vertical on the right.
This type of lamp is used in torches and lanterns.
The flange at the top of the metal body is used to hold the lamp in place.
Lampholders are not readily available so this type is unsuitable for most electronic projects.
Several lamps can be successfully connected in series provided they all have identical
voltage and power (or current) ratings. The supply voltage is divided equally between
identical lamps so their voltage rating must be suitable for this. For example Christmas
tree lights may have 20 lamps connected in series to a 240V supply, so each lamp will have
240V ÷ 20 = 12V across it.
A disadvantage of connecting lamps in series is that if one lamp blows all of them will
go out because the circuit is broken. Traditional Christmas tree lamps have a special feature to
overcome this problem: they are designed to short circuit (conduct like a wire link) when
they blow, so the circuit is not broken and the other lamps remain lit, making it easier
to locate the faulty lamp. Sets also include one 'fuse' lamp which blows normally.
Christmas tree lamps may seem safe because they use only 12V but they are connected
to the mains supply which can be lethal. Always unplug from the mains before changing lamps.
The voltage across the holder of a missing lamp is the full mains supply. (Yes, it really is!)
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They stock a wide range of lamps, other components and tools for electronics and I am happy to
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