Fluorescent lamp

Fluorescent lamp

A fluorescent lamp or fluorescent tube is a gas-discharge lamp that uses electricity to excite mercury vapor. The excited mercury atoms produce short-wave ultraviolet light that then causes a phosphor to fluoresce, producing visible light.

Unlike incandescent lamps, fluorescent lamps always require a ballast to regulate the flow of power through the lamp. However, a fluorescent lamp converts electrical power into useful light more efficiently than an incandescent lamp; lower energy costs offsets the higher initial cost of the lamp. While larger fluorescent lamps have been mostly used in large commercial or institutional buildings, the compact fluorescent lamp is now being used as an energy-saving alternative to incandescent lamps in homes. Compared with incandescent lamps, fluorescent lamps use less power for the same amount of light, generally last longer, but are bulkier, more complex, and more expensive than a comparable incandescent lamp.


Physical discoveries

The history of the fluorescent lamp begins with early research into electrical phenomena. By the beginning of the 18th century, experimenters had observed a radiant glow emanating from partially evacuated glass vessels through which an electrical current passed. Little more could be done with this phenomenon until 1856 when a German glassblower named Heinrich Geissler (1815–1879) created a mercury vacuum pump that evacuated a glass tube to an extent not previously possible. When an electrical current passed through a Geissler tube, a strong green glow on the walls of the tube at the cathode end could be observed.

Because it produced some beautiful light effects, the Geissler tube was a popular source of amusement. More important, however, was its contribution to scientific research. One of the first scientists to experiment with a Geissler tube was Julius Plücker (1801–1868) who systematically described in 1858 the luminescent effects that occurred in a Geissler tube. He also made the important observation that the glow in the tube shifted position when in proximity to an electromagnetic field.

Inquiries that began with the Geissler tube continued as even better vacuums were produced. The most famous was the evacuated tube used for scientific research by William Crookes (1832–1919). That tube was evacuated by the highly effective mercury vacuum pump created by Hermann Sprengel (1834–1906). Research conducted by Crookes and others ultimately led to the discovery of the electron in 1897 by J. J. Thomson (1856–1940). But the Crookes tube, as it came to be known, produced little light because the vacuum in it was too good and thus lacked the trace amounts of gas that are needed for electrically stimulated luminescence.

Alexandre Edmond Becquerel observed in 1859 that certain substances gave off light when they were placed in a Geissler tube. He went on to apply thin coatings of luminescent materials to the surfaces of these tubes. Fluorescence occurred, but the tubes were very inefficient and had a short operating life. A few years earlier another scientist, George G. Stokes (1819–1903), had noted that ultraviolet light caused fluorspar to fluoresce, a property that would become critically important for the development of fluorescent lights many decades later.

Early discharge lamps

While Becquerel was primarily interested in conducting scientific research into fluorescence, Thomas Edison (1847–1931) briefly pursued fluorescent lighting for its commercial potential. He invented a fluorescent lamp in 1896 which used a coating of calcium tungstate as the fluorescing substance, excited by X-rays, but although it received a patent in 1907 [ U.S. Patent 865367 "Fluorescent Electric Lamp" ] , it was not put into production. As with a few other attempts to use Geissler tubes for illumination, it had a short operating life, and given the success of the incandescent light, Edison had little reason to pursue an alternative means of electrical illumination.
Nikola Tesla made similar experiments in the 1890s, devising high frequency powered fluorescent bulbs that gave a bright greenish light, but as with Edison's devices, no commercial success was achieved.

Although Edison lost interest in fluorescent lighting, one of his former employees was able to create a gas-based lamp that achieved a measure of commercial success. In 1895 Daniel McFarlan Moore (1869–1933) demonstrated lamps 7 to 9 feet in length that used carbon dioxide or nitrogen to emit white or pink light, respectively. As with future fluorescent lamps, they were considerably more complicated than an incandescent bulb.

After years of work, Moore was able to extend the operating life of the lamps by inventing an electromagnetically controlled valve that maintained a constant gas pressure within the tube. Although Moore’s lamp was complicated, expensive to install, and required very high voltages, it was considerably more efficient than incandescent lamps, and it produced a more natural light than incandescents. From 1904 onwards Moore’s lighting system was installed in a number of stores and offices. Its success contributed to General Electric’s motivation to improve the incandescent lamp, especially its filament. GE’s efforts came to fruition with the invention of a tungsten-based filament. The extended lifespan of incandescent bulbs negated one of the key advantages of Moore’s lamp, but GE purchased the relevant patents in 1912. These patents and the inventive efforts that supported them were to be of considerable value when the firm took up fluorescent lighting more than two decades later.

At about the same time that Moore was developing his lighting system, another American was creating a means of illumination that also can be seen as a precursor to the modern fluorescent lamp. This was the mercury vapor lamp, invented by Peter Cooper Hewitt (1861–1921) and patented in 1901 (U.S. Pat. No. 889,692). Cooper-Hewitt’s lamp luminesced when an electric current was passed through mercury vapor at a low pressure. Unlike Moore’s lamps, those made by Cooper-Hewitt could be manufactured in standardized sizes and operated at low voltages. The mercury-vapor lamp was superior to the incandescent lamps of the time in terms of energy efficiency, but the blue-green light it produced limited its applications. It was, however, used for photography and some industrial processes.

Mercury vapor lamps continued to be developed at a slow pace, especially in Europe, and by the early 1930s they received limited use for large-scale illumination. Some of them employed fluorescent coatings, but these were primarily used for color correction and not for enhanced light output. Mercury vapor lamps also anticipated the fluorescent lamp in their incorporation of a ballast to maintain a constant current. Cooper-Hewitt had not been the first to use mercury vapor for illumination, as earlier efforts had been mounted by Way, Rapieff, Arons, and Bastian and Salisbury. Of particular importance was the mercury vapor lamp invented by Küch in Germany. This lamp used quartz in place of glass to allow higher operating temperatures, and hence greater efficiency. Although its light output relative to electrical consumption was better than other sources of light, the light it produced was similar to that of the Cooper-Hewitt lamp in that it lacked the red portion of the spectrum, making it unsuitable for ordinary lighting.

Neon lamps

The next step in gas-based lighting took advantage of the luminescent qualities of neon, an inert gas that had been discovered in 1898. In 1909 Georges Claude (1870–1960), a French chemist, observed the red glow that was produced when running an electric current through a neon-filled tube. He also discovered that argon emitted a blue glow. While neon lighting was used around 1930 in France for general illumination, it was no more energy-efficient than conventional incandescent lighting. Neon lighting came to be used primarily for eye-catching signs and advertisements. Neon lighting was relevant to the development of fluorescent lighting, however, as Claude’s improved electrode (patented in 1915) overcame “sputtering”, a major source of electrode degradation. Sputtering occurred when ionized particles struck an electrode and tore off bits of metal. Although Claude’s invention required electrodes with a lot of surface area, it showed that a major impediment to gas-based lighting could be overcome.

The development of the neon light also was significant for the last key element of the fluorescent lamp, its fluorescent coating. In 1926 Jacques Risler received a French patent for the application of fluorescent coatings to neon light tubes. The main use of these lamps, which can be considered the first commercially successful fluorescents, was for advertising, not general illumination. This, however, was not the first use of fluorescent coatings. As has been noted above, Edison used calcium tungstate for his unsuccessful lamp. Other efforts had been mounted, but all were plagued by low efficiency and various technical problems. Of particular importance was the invention in 1927 of a low-voltage “metal vapor lamp” by Friedrich Meyer, Hans-Joachim Spanner, and Edmund Germer, who were employees of a German firm in Berlin. A German patent was granted but the lamp never went into commercial production.

Commercialization of fluorescent lamps

All the major features of fluorescent lighting were in place at the end of the 1920s. Decades of invention and development had provided the key components of fluorescent lamps: economically manufactured glass tubing, inert gases for filling the tubes, electrical ballasts, long-lasting electrodes, mercury vapor as a source of luminescence, effective means of producing a reliable electrical discharge, and fluorescent coatings that could be energized by ultraviolet light. At this point, intensive development was more important than basic research.

In 1934, Arthur Compton, a renowned physicist and GE consultant, reported to the GE lamp department on successful experiments with fluorescent lighting at General Electric Co., Ltd. in Great Britain (unrelated to General Electric in the United States). Stimulated by this report, and with all of the key elements available, a team led by George E. Inman built a prototype fluorescent lamp in 1934 at General Electric’s Nela Park (Ohio) engineering laboratory. This was not a trivial exercise; as noted by Arthur A. Bright, “A great deal of experimentation had to be done on lamp sizes and shapes, cathode construction, gas pressures of both argon and mercury vapor, colors of fluorescent powders, methods of attaching them to the inside of the tube, and other details of the lamp and its auxiliaries before the new device was ready for the public.”

In addition to having engineers and technicians along with facilities for R&D work on fluorescents, General Electric controlled what it regarded as the key patents covering fluorescent lighting, including the patents originally issued to Cooper-Hewitt, Moore, and Küch. More important than these was a patent covering an electrode that did not disintegrate at the gas pressures that ultimately were employed in fluorescent lamps. This invention had been created by Albert W. Hull of GE’s Schenectady Research Laboratory, and was registered as U.S. Pat. No. 1,790,153.

While the Hull patent gave GE a basis for claiming legal rights over the fluorescent lamp, a few months after the lamp went into production the firm learned of a U.S. patent application had been filed in 1927 for the aforementioned "metal vapor lamp" invented in Germany by Meyer, Spanner, and Germer. The patent application indicated that the lamp had been created as a superior means of producing ultraviolet light, but the application also contained a few statements referring to fluorescent illumination. Efforts to obtain a U.S. patent had met with numerous delays, but were it to be granted, the patent might have caused serious difficulties for GE. At first, GE sought to block the issuance of a patent by claiming that priority should go to one of their employees, Leroy J. Buttolph, who according to their claim had invented a fluorescent lamp in 1919 and whose patent application was still pending. GE also had filed a patent application in 1936 in Inman’s name to cover the “improvements” wrought by his group. In 1939 GE decided that the claim of Meyer, Spanner, and Germer had some merit, and that in any event a long interference procedure was not in their best interest. They therefore dropped the Buttolph claim and paid $180,000 to acquire the Meyer, et al. application, which at that point was owned by a firm known as Electrons, Inc. The patent (U.S. Pat. No. 2,182,732) was duly awarded in December 1939. This patent, along with the Hull patent, put GE on what seemed to be firm legal ground, although it faced years of legal challenges from Sylvania Electric Products, Inc., which claimed infringement on patents that it held.

Even though the patent issue would not be completely resolved for many years, General Electric’s strength in manufacturing and marketing gave it a pre-eminent position in the emerging fluorescent light market. Sales of "fluorescent lumiline lamps" commenced in 1938 when four different sizes of tubes were put on the market. During the following year GE and Westinghouse publicized the new lights through exhibitions at the New York World’s Fair and the Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco. Fluorescent lighting systems spread rapidly during World War II as wartime manufacturing intensified lighting demand. By 1951 more light was produced in the United States by fluorescent lamps than by incandescent lamps.

Principles of operation

The fundamental means for conversion of electrical energy into radiant energy in a fluorescent lamp relies on inelastic scattering of electrons. An incident electron collides with an atom in the gas. If the free electron has enough kinetic energy, it transfers energy to the atom's outer electron, causing that electron to temporarily jump up to a higher energy level. This is why the collision is called 'inelastic,' as some of the energy is transferred.

This higher energy state is unstable, and the atom will emit an ultraviolet photon as the atom's electron reverts to a lower, more stable, energy level. Most of the photons that are released from the mercury atoms have wavelengths in the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. This is not visible to the human eye, so must be converted into visible light. This is done by making use of fluorescence. Ultraviolet photons are absorbed by electrons in the atoms of the lamp's fluorescent coating, causing a similar energy jump, then drop, with emission of a further photon. The photon that is emitted from this second interaction has a lower energy than the one that caused it. The chemicals that make up the phosphor are chosen so that these emitted photons are at wavelengths visible to the human eye. The difference in energy between the absorbed ultra-violet photon and the emitted visible light photon goes to heat up the phosphor coating.

As a result of avalanche ionization, the conductivity of the ionized gas rapidly rises, allowing higher currents to flow through the lamp. The mercury is then likewise ionized, causing it to emit light in the ultraviolet (UV) region of the spectrum predominantly at wavelengths of 253.7 nm and 185 nm.

The efficiency of fluorescent lighting owes much to the fact that low pressure mercury discharges emit about 65% of their total light in the 254 nm line (another 10–20% of the light is emitted in the 185 nm line). The UV light is absorbed by the bulb's fluorescent coating, which re-radiates the energy at longer wavelengths to emit visible light. The blend of phosphors controls the color of the light, and along with the bulb's glass prevents the harmful UV light from escaping.

When the light is turned on, the electric power heats up the cathode enough for it to emit electrons. These electrons collide with and ionize noble gas atoms in the bulb surrounding the filament to form a plasma by a process of impact ionization.


A fluorescent lamp tube is filled with a gas containing low pressure mercury vapor and argon, xenon,neon, or krypton. The pressure inside the lamp is around 0.3% of atmospheric pressure. The inner surface of the bulb is coated with a fluorescent (and often slightly phosphorescent) coating made of varying blends of metallic and rare-earth phosphor salts. The bulb's cathode is typically made of coiled tungsten which is coated with a mixture of barium, strontium and calcium oxides (chosen to have a relatively low thermionic emission temperature).

Fluorescent lamp tubes are typically straight and range in length from about 4 inches (100 mm) (miniature lamps) to 8 feet (2400 mm), for high-output lamps. Some lamps have the tube bent into a circle, used for table lamps or other places where a more compact light source is desired. Larger U-shaped lamps are used to provide the same amount of light in a more compact area, and are used for special architectural purposes. Compact fluorescent lamps have several small-diameter tubes joined in a bundle of two, three, or four, or a small diameter tube coiled into a spiral, to provide a high amount of light output in little volume.

Electrical aspects of operation

Fluorescent lamps are negative differential resistance devices, so as more current flows through them, the electrical resistance of the fluorescent lamp drops, allowing even more current to flow. Connected directly to a constant-voltage mains power line, a fluorescent lamp would rapidly self-destruct due to the uncontrolled current flow. To prevent this, fluorescent lamps must use an auxiliary device, a ballast, to regulate the current flow through the tube; and to provide a higher voltage for starting the lamp.

While the ballast could be (and occasionally is) as simple as a resistor, substantial power is wasted in a resistive ballast so ballasts usually use an inductor instead. For operation from AC mains voltage, the use of simple magnetic ballast is common. In countries that use 120 V AC mains, the mains voltage is insufficient to light large fluorescent lamps so the ballast for these larger fluorescent lamps is often a step-up autotransformer with substantial leakage inductance (so as to limit the current flow). Either form of inductive ballast may also include a capacitor for power factor correction.

Many different circuits have been used to start and run fluorescent lamps. The choice of circuit is based on factors such as mains voltage, tube length, initial cost, long term cost, instant versus non-instant starting, temperature ranges and parts availability, etc. The names of these different circuits vary by country and this can cause confusion. For example, "pre-heat" in this context has valid but different meanings in the US and elsewhere.

Fluorescent lamps can run directly from a DC supply of sufficient voltage to strike an arc. The ballast must be resistive, and would consume about as much power as the lamp. When operated from DC, the polarity of the supply to the lamp must be reversed every time the lamp is started; otherwise, the mercury accumulates at one end of the tube. Currently, fluorescent lamps are almost never operated directly from DC; instead, an inverter converts the DC into AC and provides the current-limiting function as described below for electronic ballasts.

For line operation, ballasts may employ transistors or other semiconductor components to convert mains voltage into high-frequency AC while also regulating the current flow in the lamp. These are referred to as "electronic ballasts", and take advantage of the higher efficacy of lamps operated with higher-frequency current.


The mercury atoms in the fluorescent tube must be ionized before the arc can "strike" within the tube. For small lamps, it does not take much voltage to strike the arc and starting the lamp presents no problem, but larger tubes require a substantial voltage (in the range of a thousand volts).

Preheat lamps

"Preheat lamps" use a combination filament/cathode at each end of the lamp in conjunction with a mechanical or automatic switch (see photo) that initially connect the filaments in series with the ballast and thereby preheat the filaments prior to striking the arc.

These systems are standard equipment in 240 V countries (and for 120 V lamps up to about 30 watts), and generally use a glow starter. Before the 1960s, four-pin thermal starters and manual switches were also used. Electronic starters are also sometimes used with these electromagnetic ballast fittings.

The automatic glow starter shown in the photograph consists of a small gas-discharge tube, containing neon and/or argon and fitted with a bi-metallic electrode. The special bi-metallic electrode is the key to the automatic starting mechanism.

When starting the lamp, a glow discharge will appear over the electrodes of the starter. This glow discharge will heat the gas in the starter and cause the bi-metallic electrode to bend towards the other electrode. When the electrodes touch, the two filaments of the fluorescent lamp and the ballast will effectively be switched in series to the supply voltage. This causes the filaments to glow and emit electrons into the gas column by thermionic emission. In the starter's tube, the touching electrodes have stopped the glow discharge, causing the gas to cool down again. The bi-metallic electrode also cools down and starts to move back. When the electrodes separate, the inductive kick from the ballast provides the high voltage to start the lamp. The starter additionally has a capacitor wired in parallel to its gas-discharge tube, in order to prolong the electrode life.

Once the tube is struck, the impinging main discharge then keeps the filament/cathode hot, permitting continued emission without the need for the starter to close. The starter does not close again because the voltage across the starter is reduced by the resistance in the filaments and ballast. The glow discharge in the starter is sensitive to voltage and will not happen at the lower voltage so it will not warm and thus close the starter.

Tube strike is reliable in these systems, but glow starters will often cycle a few times before letting the tube stay lit, which causes undesirable flashing during starting. (The older thermal starters behaved better in this respect.)

If the tube fails to strike, or strikes but then extinguishes, the starting sequence is repeated. With automated starters such as glowstarters, a failing tube will thus cycle endlessly, flashing as the starter repeatedly starts the worn-out lamp, and the lamp then quickly goes out as emission is insufficient to keep the cathodes hot, and lamp current is too low to keep the glowstarter open. This causes flickering, and runs the ballast at above design temperature. Some more advanced starters time out in this situation, and do not attempt repeated starts until power is reset. Some older systems used a thermal overcurrent trip to detect repeated starting attempts. These require manual reset.

Other methods

In some cases, a high voltage is applied directly: "instant start" fluorescent tubes simply use a high enough voltage to break down the gas and mercury column and thereby start arc conduction. These tubes can be identified by
# a single pin at each end of the tube, and
# the lampholders that they fit into having a "disconnect" socket at the low-voltage end to ensure that the mains current is automatically removed so that a person replacing the lamp cannot receive a high-voltage electric shock.

Newer "rapid start" ballast designs provide filament power windings within the ballast; these rapidly and continuously warm the filaments/cathodes using low-voltage AC. No inductive voltage spike is produced for starting, so the lamps must usually be mounted near a grounded (earthed) reflector to allow the glow discharge to propagate through the tube and initiate the arc discharge.

Electronic ballasts often revert to a style in-between the preheat and rapid-start styles: a capacitor (or sometimes an autodisconnecting circuit) may complete the circuit between the two filaments, providing filament preheating. When the tube lights, the voltage and frequency across the tube and capacitor typically both drop, thus capacitor current falls to a low but non-zero value. Generally this capacitor and the inductor, which provides current limiting in normal operation, form a resonant circuit, increasing the voltage across the lamp so it can easily start.

Some electronic ballasts use programmed start. The output AC frequency is started above the resonance frequency of the output circuit of the ballast; and after the filaments are heated, the frequency is rapidly decreased. If the frequency approaches the resonant frequency of the ballast, the output voltage will increase so much that the lamp will ignite. If the lamp does not ignite, an electronic circuit stops the operation of the ballast.

Beginning in the 1990s a new type of ballast came into the mainstream, with a more expensive but significantly more efficient design: high frequency operation. These newer design high frequency ballasts have been used with either rapid start or pre-heat cathode/anode style lamps (with pins shorted at the lamp end), and use high frequency to excite the mercury within the lamp. These newer electronic ballasts convert the 50 or 60 Hertz coming into the ballast to an output frequency in excess of 20 kHz. This allows for a more efficient system that generates less waste heat and requires significantly less power to light the lamp, and operates in a rapid starting manner. These are used in several applications, including new generation tanning lamp systems, whereby a 100 watt lamp (e.g., F71T12BP) can be lighted using 65 to 70 watts of actual power while obtaining the same lumens as traditional ballasts at full power. These operate with voltages that can be almost 600 volts, requiring some consideration in housing design, and can cause a minor limitation in the length of the wire leads from the ballast to the lamp ends. These ballasts run just a few degrees above ambient temperature, which is partly why they are more efficient and allows them to be used in applications that would be inappropriate for hotter-running electronics.

End of life

The end of life failure mode for fluorescent lamps varies depending how they are used and their control gear type. There are three main failure modes, and a fourth that is starting to appear in modern lamps:

Emission mix

The "emission mix" on the tube filaments/cathodes is necessary to enable electrons to pass into the gas via thermionic emission at the tube operating voltages used. The mix is slowly sputtered off by bombardment with electrons and mercury ions during operation, but a larger amount is sputtered off each time the tube is started with cold cathodes. (The method of starting the lamp and hence the control gear type has a significant impact on this.) Lamps operated for typically less than 3 hours each switch-on will normally run out of the emission mix before other parts of the lamp fail. The sputtered emission mix forms the dark marks at the tube ends seen in old tubes. When all the emission mix is gone, the cathode cannot pass sufficient electrons into the gas fill to maintain the discharge at the designed tube operating voltage. Ideally, the control gear should shut down the tube when this happens. However, some control gear will provide sufficient increased voltage to continue operating the tube in cold cathode mode, which will cause overheating of the tube end and rapid disintegration of the electrodes and their support wires until they are completely gone or the glass cracks, wrecking the low pressure gas fill and stopping the gas discharge.

Ballast electronics

This is only relevant to compact fluorescent lamps with integral electrical ballasts. Ballast electronics failure is a somewhat random process which follows the standard failure profile for any electronic devices. Integral electronic ballasts suffer from shortened lifespans in high humidity applications. There is an initial small peak of early failures, followed by a drop and steady increase over lamp life. Life of electronics is heavily dependent on operating temperature—it typically halves for each 10 °C temperature rise. The quoted average life of a lamp is usually at 25 °C ambient (this may vary by country). The average life of the electronics at this temperature is normally greater than this, so at this temperature, not many lamps will fail due to failure of the electronics. In some fittings, the ambient temperature could be well above this, in which case failure of the electronics may become the predominant failure mechanism. Similarly, running a compact fluorescent lamp base-up will result in hotter electronics and shorter average life (particularly with higher power rated ones). Electronic ballasts should be designed to shut down the tube when the emission mix runs out as described above. In the case of integral electronic ballasts, since they never have to work again, this is sometimes done by having them deliberately burn out some component to permanently cease operation.


The phosphor drops off in efficiency during use. By around 25,000 operating hours, it will typically be half the brightness of a new lamp (although some manufacturers claim much longer half-lives for their lamps). Lamps which do not suffer failures of the emission mix or integral ballast electronics will eventually develop this failure mode. They still work, but have become dim and inefficient. The process is slow, and often only becomes obvious when a new lamp is operating next to an old lamp.

Loss of mercury

Mercury is slowly absorbed into glass, phosphor, and tube electrodes throughout the lamp life, where it can no longer function. Newer lamps now have just enough mercury to last the expected life of the lamp. Loss of mercury will take over from failure of the phosphor in some lamps. The failure symptoms are similar, except loss of mercury initially causes an extended run-up time to full light output, and finally causes the lamp to glow a dim pink when the mercury runs out and the argon base gas takes over as the primary discharge.

Phosphors and the spectrum of emitted light

Some people find the color rendition produced by some fluorescent lamps to be harsh and displeasing. A healthy person can sometimes appear to have an unhealthy skin tone under fluorescent lighting. The extent to which this phenomenon occurs is related to the light's spectral composition, and may be gauged by its Color Rendering Index (CRI).

CRI is a measure of how well balanced the different color components of the white light are, relative to daylight or a blackbody. By definition, an incandescent lamp has a CRI of 100. Real-life fluorescent tubes achieve CRIs of anywhere from 50% to 99%. Fluorescent lamps with low CRI have phosphors which emit too little red light. Skin appears less pink, and hence "unhealthy" compared with incandescent lighting. Colored objects appear muted. For example, a low CRI 6800K halophosphate tube (an extreme example) will make reds appear dull red or even brown.

Correlated color temperature (CCT) is a measure of the "shade" of whiteness of a light source, again by comparison with a blackbody. Typical incandescent lighting is 2700K which is yellowish-white. Halogen lighting is 3000K. Fluorescent lamps are manufactured to a chosen CCT by altering the mixture of phosphors inside the tube. Warm-white fluorescents have CCT of 2700K and are popular for residential lighting. Neutral-white fluorescents have a CCT of 3000K or 3500K. Cool-white fluorescents have a CCT of 4100K and are popular for office lighting. Daylight fluorescents have a CCT of 5000K to 6500K, which is bluish-white.

High CCT lighting generally requires higher light levels. At dimmer illumination levels, the human eye perceives lower color temperatures as more natural, as related through the Kruithof curve. So, a dim 2700K incandescent lamp appears natural, and a bright 5000K lamp also appears natural, but a dim 5000K fluorescent lamp appears too pale. Daylight-type fluorescents look natural only if they are very bright.

Some of the least pleasant light comes from tubes containing the older halophosphate type phosphors (chemical formula Ca5(PO4)3(F,Cl):Sb3+,Mn2+). The bad color reproduction is due to the fact that this phosphor mainly emits yellow and blue light, and relatively little green and red. In the absence a reference, this mixture appears white to the eye, but the light has an incomplete spectrum. The CRI of such lamps is around 60.

Since the 1990s, higher quality fluorescent lamps use either a higher CRI halophosphate coating, or a "triphosphor" mixture, based on europium and terbium ions, that have emission bands more evenly distributed over the spectrum of visible light. High CRI halophosphate and triphosphor tubes give a more natural color reproduction to the human eye. The CRI of such lamps is typically 82-100.


Odd lengths are usually added after the color. One example is an F25T12/CW/33, meaning 25 Watts, 11/2" diameter, Cool White, 33" or 84 cm long. Without the 33", it would be assumed that an F25T12 is the more-common 30" long.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps

Some compact fluorescents are now being labelled with this designation system.

Other fluorescent lamps

;Black lights:Blacklights are a subset of fluorescent lamps that are used to provide long-wave ultraviolet light (at about 360nm wavelength). They are built in the same fashion as conventional fluorescent lamps but the glass tube is coated with a phosphor that converts the short-wave UV within the tube to long-wave UV rather than to visible light. They are used to provoke fluorescence (to provide dramatic effects using blacklight paint and to detect materials such as urine and certain dyes that would be invisible in visible light) as well as to attract insects to bug zappers.

:So-called "blacklite blue" lamps are also made from more expensive deep purple glass known as Wood's glass rather than clear glass. The deep purple glass filters out most of the visible colors of light directly emitted by the mercury-vapor discharge, producing proportionally less visible light compared with UV light. This allows UV-induced fluorescence to be seen more easily (thereby allowing "blacklight posters" to seem much more dramatic). The blacklight lamps used in bug zappers do not require this refinement so it is usually omitted in the interest of cost; they are called simply "blacklite" (and not blacklite blue).

;Tanning lamps:The lamps used in tanning beds contain a different phosphor blend (typically 3 to 5 or more phosphors) that emits both UVA and UVB, provoking a tanning response in most human skin. Typically, the output is rated as 3% to 10% UVB (5% most typical) with the remaining UV as UVA. These are mainly F71, F72 or F73 HO (100W) lamps, although 160W VHO are somewhat common.

;Grow lamps:Grow lamps contain phosphor blends that encourage photosynthesis, growth, and/or flowering in plants, algae, photosynthetic bacteria, and other light-dependent organisms.

;Germicidal lamps:Germicidal lamps contain no phosphor at all (technically making them gas discharge lamps rather than fluorescent) and their tubes are made of fused quartz that is transparent to the short-wave UV directly emitted by the mercury discharge. The UV emitted by these tubes will kill germs, ionize oxygen to ozone, and cause eye and skin damage. Besides their uses to kill germs and create ozone, they are sometimes used by geologists to identify certain species of minerals by the color of their fluorescence. When used in this fashion, they are fitted with filters in the same way as blacklight-blue lamps are; the filter passes the short-wave UV and blocks the visible light produced by the mercury discharge. They are also used in EPROM erasers.

:Germicidal lamps have designations beginning with G (meaning 'Germicidal'), rather than F, for example G30T8 for a 30-Watt, 1 inch diameter, 36 inch long germicidal lamp (as opposed to an F30T8, which would be the fluorescent lamp of the same size and rating).

;Electrodeless lamps:Electrodeless induction lamps are fluorescent lamps without internal electrodes. They have been commercially available since 1990. A current is induced into the gas column using electromagnetic induction. Because the electrodes are usually the life-limiting element of fluorescent lamps, such electrodeless lamps can have a very long service life, although they also have a higher purchase price.

;Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL):Also known as a compact fluorescent light bulb is a type of fluorescent lamp designed to replace an incandescent lamp. Many CFLs can fit in the existing incandescent light fixtures.

;Cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL):Cold-cathode fluorescent lamps are used as backlighting for LCD displays in personal computer and TV monitors. They are also popular with case modders in recent years.

cience demonstrations

Fluorescent lamps can be illuminated by means other than a proper electrical connection. These other methods however result in very dim or very short-lived illumination, and so are seen mostly in science demonstrations. With the exception of static electricity (and Van de Graaff generators), these methods can be very dangerous if done improperly:

* Static electricity
* Van de Graaff generator
* Tesla coil
* Capacitive coupling with high-voltage power lines [ [http://www.richardbox.com/ richardbox.com ] ]

Film and video use

Special fluorescent lights are often used in film and video production. The brand name Kino Flo are used to create softer fill light and are less hot than traditional halogen light sources. These fluorescent lights are designed with special high-frequency ballasts to prevent video flickering and high color-rendition index bulbs to approximate daylight color temperatures.

ee also

*List of light sources
*Electrical ballast


External links

*NASA: [http://www-istp.gsfc.nasa.gov/Education/wfluor.html The Fluorescent Lamp: A plasma you can use]
*How Stuff Works: [http://www.howstuffworks.com/question236.htm Are fluorescent bulbs really more efficient than normal light bulbs?]
*How Stuff Works: [http://www.howstuffworks.com/fluorescent-lamp.htm How Fluorescent Lamps Work]
* [http://members.misty.com/don/f-lamp.html Sam's F-Lamp FAQ]
* [http://nemesis.lonestar.org/reference/electricity/fluorescent/index.html The Fluorescent Lighting System]
*The Lighting Design Lab: [http://lightingdesignlab.com/articles/switching/switching_fluorescent.htm "Should I Turn Off Fluorescent Lighting When Leaving A Room?"]
* [http://www.lamptech.co.uk Museum of Electric Lamp Technology]
* [http://www.maxim-ic.com/appnotes.cfm/appnote_number/3528 Application notes for CCFL lamps.]
* [http://www.lampreview.net History, Science and Technology of Light Sources]
*cite web|url=http://home.frognet.net/~ejcov/thayer.html|title=The Fluorescent Lamp: Early U. S. Development|author=R. N. Thayer|accessdate=2007-03-18|date=1991-10-25|publisher=The Report courtesy of General Electric Company
* [http://ioannis.virtualcomposer2000.com/spectroscope/amici.html Dozens of raw visible spectra of fluorescent and other light bulbs]
* [http://wiki.diyfaq.org.uk/index.php?title=Fluorescent_Lighting Fluorescent Lighting, UK.D-I-Y Wiki]
* [http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks]
* [http://www.recyclingsupermarket.com/hazardous-waste/fluorescent-tubes-in-the-workplace/ Fluorescent Tubes in the Workplace] Article explaining the proper disposal of fluorescent tubes
* [http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/energy_saving_products/types_of_energy_saving_recommended_products/energy_saving_light_bulbs 'Energy saving lightbulbs']
* [http://neuralnation.com/wiki/index.php5?title=Fluorescent_Light_Calculator 'Light Bulb Changing Calculator']

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