|An early human group with fire|
A Quick Trip through the Story of Light
Members and friends at Pembrokeshire South East Energy Group's January meeting were met by an impressive display of objects that Philip Wathen had brought along to illustrate his talk entitled 'Keeping the Lights On'.
He started by giving a very quick tour through the evolutionary timeline of our ancestors. He stated that Homo erectus had used fire most probably for warmth, light and protection. It was, however, later that it started to be used to cook food. Once food was being cooked, animal fat would be available to use as fuel along with wood.
With the coming of Homo sapiens ways of using fire to light dwellings developed. Philip showed us the 'Sooty Flame' that came from the oil lamps used by Greeks and Romans as lighting. These ceramic and metal lamps used olive oil as fuel. Having lit the lamp he had brought along he covered it with a bowl and then showed us the large amount of soot deposited inside the bowl in a very short length of time.
Over time olive oil was replaced by beeswax, sesame seed oil, tallow, fish oil and whale oil and candles replaced the lamps. These were used for lighting in the home.
As early as 1792 William Murdoch used coal gas to light his home before using it to light the Solo Foundry in Birmingham in 1802. Gas lighting appeared in London in 1807.
Philip had brought along a Tilley Lamp to explain the way that the mantle worked. This used paraffin (kerosene) produced from Scottish shale gas. The mantle gave more light which was more consistent although it still produced a great deal of heat. This was the first way of producing light that was not 'Sooty'.
The development of electricity from C18 onwards was then covered. Many important people were mentioned – some well known household names to some not so well known. Each contributed to the understanding and progress of this supply of energy. The first power station was built by Edison in London in 1892, lighting street lamps and a few private houses. It was 110 Volt D. C. system and couldn't supply a customer more than 1 mile away.
The world's first A.C. Hydro-electric power station was built by Tesla and Westinghouse in Niagra in 1895.
Philip then discussed the development of nuclear power. He explained how the understanding of the way that atoms were made up gradually increased with the discovery of the nucleus, protons and electrons. This led on to nuclear fission and the atomic bomb and nuclear power.
One of the practical highlights of the evening was when Philip used a geiger counter – which he had made himself - to show how various ornaments had been made including uranium. He had a Vaseline Glass vase that is made with uranium content to give a pale yellow green colour similar to that of petroleum jelly. Uranium glass glows bright green under UV light. Most Vaseline glass was produced during the Victorian era. This gave a very high reading whilst another vase and pot showed a lower reading as they had been produced using used depleted uranium.
We then saw the range of light bulbs from the early carbon filament ones – which were very fragile – to the incandescent ones which still produced a great deal of heat. Fluorescent tubes and later energy saving bulbs no longer produced heat. Now however Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) use minimal electricity and give out light and not heat. They produce large savings in the use of electricity and will become the new norm as prices decrease.
Philip was warmly thanked by the Chair for such an interesting and engaging talk. Whilst enjoying a cup of tea/coffee members and friends continued the discussion with questions and answers and 'hands-on' experience of some of the items on display.
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