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Carbide Miner's Lamp - Bringing History Back to Life!

Before mine shafts had electricity, miners wore calcium carbide lamps on their helmets to light the darkness. Recently I was visiting my Grannie at her house when I noticed a Carbide Miner's Lamp on her counter. When I asked about it she told me that her dad wore it in a coal mine in southern Wyoming back in the 1930's and that the lamp probably hadn't been lit since 1938! I use calcium carbide (find it here) in my classroom all of the time in a cannon I've built because when it reacts with water, it releases a highly flammable gas called acetylene. This acetylene can be lit on fire, and, if under pressure, it can combust very quickly (explode).

The miner's lamp controls the pressure and does not allow oxygen to enter the lower chamber. This pushes the gas out the top, near the reflective disk, and, once lit, gives off a beautiful bright white light!

I can't imagine using one of these deep inside a coal mine, but miners all over the world relied on them for many years. In fact, in some developing countries they are still in use!

Watch the video to learn about how a carbide lantern works and what it takes to get an old antique lamp back into working order more than 70 years after it last gave off light!

Calcium Carbide and water reaction:

calcium carbide + water --> acetylene + calcium hydroxide

CaC2 + H2O --> C2H2 + Ca(OH)2

Acetylene combustion reaction:

acetylene gas + oxygen --> carbon dioxide + water

C2H2 + O2 --> CO2 + H2O

Keep on Learning!

~Craig Beals


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