Biodiversity and Evolution

What is the difference between incandescence and luminescence?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks


  1. The difference between incandescence and luminescence is the same as the difference between "hot light" and "cold light." A traditional light bulb makes light through incandescence -- that is, by using a filament inside the bulb that heats up to such a degree that it emits light. This method, while it creates cheap bulbs for consumers and has proven reliable over a very long haul, uses a great deal of energy and is not very efficient. By contrast, luminescence involves combining internal substances together to create a glow. (This is how many life forms on earth and in the sea create light. This type of light creation does not require lots of energy nor does it generate very much heat.)

    As we have seen, light bulbs provide a good example of the difference between incandescence and luminescence. Fluorescent light bulbs, in the luminescence camp, are four to six times more efficient to run than regular incandescent light bulbs. They work through a complex set of reactions initiated by sending a stream of electrons into argon and mercury vapor, resulting in cool fluorescent light. It appears that soon fluorescent lighting may dominate the home space.

    Previously seen in larger-scale commercial and industrial settings, fluorescent lights are making their way into the home in the form of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). In fact, CFLs stand to be the major beneficiary of a U.S. law set to take hold in 2012 that bans the use of incandescent light bulbs. While they're far more costly than incandescents on a per-bulb basis, most consumers are expected to switch to CFLs (or possibly LEDs). On the downside, however, if a bulb breaks, the mercury inside CFLs could harm children and infants and requires a highly detailed series of steps to clean up that can make the effort feel like a "hazmat" operation [source: Cleveland Plain Dealer].

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