So what happens when you put a light bulb in the microwave?

The next experiment in our series (What can you do with $25 and a few hours) of microwaving household items was a common everyday light bulb. In this experiment we wanted to see what would happen since there was metal, gases, glass, and who knows what else inside of a bulb.

We didn’t want to waste a perfectly good bulb, so we used a perfectly good burnt bulb that had just died that morning. With that in mind, away we went…

We started the bulb by adding 6 minutes as a speed setting to see what might happen. In just 4 seconds, it started lighting up randomly with some brilliant colors. Mind you that this isn’t connected to any electricity source, and Uncle Fester from the Adams Family came to mind since he was always putting a light bulb in his mouth and it lit up.

The light bulb continued to ignite with brilliant colors for about the first 30 seconds, and then it appeared that just the spent element glowed softly after that. So after about 2 minutes and 15 seconds we decided to put it aside.

We were surprised by a couple of things:

  1. The glass didn’t break – Glass on a light bulb is very thin. Think how easy it is to break if you squeeze it or step on it, or even drop it. So add some heat and arcing going on within it and it could break.
  2. The metallic base didn’t spark – I’ve always been told not to put metal in a microwave because it would ruin the microwave. Yet this base just sat there and provided no entertainment value.
  3. The filament didn’t glow continually – This may have been caused by the bulb rotating around inside the microwave, but if there is a consistent flow of microwaves, why didn’t it stay lit up? What caused it to glow and then cool, and then repeat the cycle?
  4. The gases inside the bulb – Our guess is that some of these gases reacted to the microwaves which is what game the brilliant spectrum of colors in the beginning, but as the burned off only the filament lit up.

If you have other thoughts or expectations from the video below, please share them. I would be interested to hear what you have to say and also to gather some ideas to test for the next time.

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