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Voltage-Current Characteristic of Incandescent Lightbulbs: Measurement and


Analysis

Article · July 2013

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Jose Raul Martinez


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Voltage-Current Characteristic of
Incandescent Lightbulbs:
Measurement and Analysis
José R. Martínez and David Krug
July 2013

Contents
1 Introduction 2

2 Lightbulb No. 1 4
2.1 Voltage-Current Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2.2 Voltage-Current Characteristic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

3 Lightbulb No. 2 6
3.1 Voltage-current Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
3.2 Voltage-current Characteristic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

4 Lightbulb No. 3 8
4.1 Voltage-current Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
4.2 Voltage-current Characteristic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

1
1 Introduction
An incandescent lightbulb (also called filament lamp) is a two-terminal
passive nonlinear device whose voltage-current (v-i) characteristic is a bi-
lateral power-law function of the form illustrated in Fig. 1. Increasing the
voltage heats the filament and increases the filament’s resistance. As a re-
sult, the current’s rate of change decreases as indicated by the bend of the
v-i curve.

Figure 1: Generic power-law voltage-current characteristic of an incandescent


lightbulb.

The following equation describes the v-i characteristic

i = sgn(v) G |v|p , G > 0, 0 < p < 1, (1)

where sgn(v) is the signum function defined by



+1, v > 0,


sgn(v) = 0, v = 0, (2)



−1, v < 0.

In (1), G and p are real constants, the former denoting the nonlinear con-
ductance and the latter the power-law exponent.
We obtained (v-i) data for three different lightbulbs (Figures 2–??). Be-
cause of the bilateral property, it sufficed to get data for v > 0 only.

2
Our goal is to find functions of the form of (1) that fit the data. The re-
sults in Sections 2–4 show that the functions match the data very accurately.

Figure 2: Lightbulb No. 1. 12V, straight filament.

Figure 3: Lightbulb No. 2 (right) and No. 3 (left).

3
2 Lightbulb No. 1
2.1 Voltage-Current Data
Fig. 4 displays the (v-i) data for Lightbulb No. 1; the data are listed in Table
1. It is evident that the data in Fig. 4 follow a power-law shape similar to
the curve in Fig. 1.

Figure 4: Voltage-current data graph for Lightbulb No. 1.

2.2 Voltage-Current Characteristic


The v-i data for Lightbulb No. 1 admit the following three statistically in-
distinguishable fitted functions:

î = 33.89 v 0.50 , (3)


î = 33.22 v 0.51 , (4)
î = 32.56 v 0.52 , (5)

where î denotes the estimate (or prediction) of i produced by the function.


The three functions fit the data very accurately, with R2 > 0.999 for all
three. As might be expected, the fits are highly statistically significant with
the p-value being close to zero.1
1
The “p-value” is a probability used to assess statistical significance and should not be
confused with the exponent “p” in (1).

4
Table 1: Lightbulb No. 1: Voltage-Current Data

Voltage Current
(V) (mA)
0.000 0.0
0.391 24.5
0.575 28.5
0.837 33.8
1.037 35.9
2.077 46.1
2.165 47.1
3.210 57.0
4.320 67.1
5.800 79.3
7.330 90.5
8.440 98.2
9.300 103.7
10.810 113.1
11.100 114.8
12.020 120.4

The three functions are statistically indistinguishable in the sense that


î obtained with one function does not differ statistically from the estimates
obtained with either of the other two functions. This is evident in Fig. 5,
which plots the measured (v-i) data, the three fitted functions, and the 95%
confidence intervals of î for (4). The figure shows that the estimates obtained
with all three functions fall within the confidence intervals displayed. There-
fore, we can select any of the three functions to obtain î; (3) would be the
parsimonious pick.
We tested five cases: p = 0.49, 0.50, 0.51, 0.52, 0.53. Fig. 6 plots R2 for
the five cases and shows that all five have high R2 , the largest values cor-
responding to the middle three cases whose respective R2 values differ only
slightly.
Fig. 7 shows that G is a linear function of p described by G ≈ 67.14 −
66.49 p, which is a very accurate least-squares fit. Note that all the confidence
intervals are about the same length.

5
Figure 5: Lightbulb No. 1. Voltage-current power-law functions with 95%
confidence intervals for the predictions obtained with p = 0.51.

3 Lightbulb No. 2
3.1 Voltage-current Data
Fig. 8 displays the (v-i) data for Lightbulb No. 2; the data are listed in Table
2. As with Lightbulb No. 1, the data in Fig. 8 follow a power-law shape
similar to the curve in Fig. 1.

3.2 Voltage-current Characteristic


The function that best matches the v-i data for Lightbulb No. 2 is

î = 54.24 v 0.56 . (6)

In this case, p = 0.56 whereas for Lightbulb No. 1 the best fit occurs with
0.50 ≤ p ≤ 0.52. As was the case with the functions for Lightbulb No. 1,
(6) matches the data very accurately having R2 > 0.999. Moreover, the fit
is highly statistically significant with the p-value being close to zero. Fig.
9 compares (6) with the function î = 60.08 v 0.50 . The figure shows that (6)
matches the data much better even though R2 = 0.99757 when p = 0.50.
We tested the cases p = 0.50, 0.52, 0.54, 0.56, 0.58, 0.60, 0.62. Fig. 10
shows that all the cases have high R2 . The highest R2 values correspond
to p = 0.54, 0.56, 0.58, whose respective R2 differ only slightly.

6
Figure 6: Lightbulb No. 1: Coefficient of determination as a function of p.

Figure 7: Lightbulb No. 1: Coefficient G vs. p. The vertical bars are the 95%
confidence intervals of G .

Fig. 11 shows that G is a linear function of p described by G ≈ 107.54 −


95.06 p, which is a very accurate least-squares fit. Note that the length of the
confidence intervals varies. The smallest interval corresponds to p = 0.56,
which supports our selection of (6) as the best fit.

7
Figure 8: Voltage-current data graph for Lightbulb No. 2.

Figure 9: Lightbulb No. 2: Voltage-current power-law functions.

4 Lightbulb No. 3
4.1 Voltage-current Data
Fig. 12 displays the (v-i) data for Lightbulb No. 3; the data are listed in
Table 3. As expected, the data in Fig. 12 follow a power-law shape similar
to the curve in Fig. 1. Note that

8
Table 2: Lightbulb No. 2: Voltage-Current Data

Voltage Current
(V) (mA)
0 0
0.349 34.20
0.463 36.80
0.543 39.70
0.676 44.05
0.768 46.90
0.869 49.90
0.977 53.00
1.122 56.80
1.592 68.80
2.005 78.25
2.620 91.20
3.030 99.10
3.808 114.10
4.640 127.00
5.440 139.30
6.080 149.00
6.750 158.30
8.140 176.00
9.860 196.80
12.030 220.00

4.2 Voltage-current Characteristic


The function that best matches the v-i data for Lightbulb No. 3 is

î = 40.56 v 0.56 , (7)

which has the same exponent—p = 0.56—as Lightbulb No. 2. Equation


(7) matches the data very accurately having R2 > 0.999. The fit is highly
statistically significant with the p-value being close to zero. Fig. 13 compares
(7) with the function î = 45.44 v 0.50 . The figure shows that (7) matches the
data much better even though R2 = 0.99789 for p = 0.50.

9
Figure 10: Lightbulb No. 2: Coefficient of determination vs. p.

Figure 11: Lightbulb No. 2: Coefficient G vs. p. The vertical bars are the
95% confidence intervals of G .

We tested the cases p = 0.50, 0.52, 0.54, 0.56, 0.58, 0.60, 0.62. Fig. 14
shows that all the cases have high R2 . The highest R2 values correspond
to p = 0.54, 0.56, 0.58, whose respective R2 differ only slightly.
Fig. 15 shows that G is a linear function of p described by G ≈ 84.53 −
78.38 p, which is a very accurate least-squares fit. Note that the length of the
confidence intervals varies. The smallest interval corresponds to p = 0.56,
which supports our selection of (7) as the best fit.

10
Figure 12: Lightbulb No. 3: Voltage-current data graph.

Figure 13: Lightbulb No. 3: Voltage-current power-law functions.

11
Table 3: Lightbulb No. 3: Voltage-Current Data

Voltage Current
(V) (mA)
0.000 0.0
0.290 22.5
0.415 26.6
0.490 28.5
0.579 30.8
0.680 35.1
0.809 35.9
0.935 38.5
1.165 42.9
1.659 52.2
2.111 59.8
2.618 67.4
3.600 81.1
4.290 89.9
5.700 106.1
6.380 114.1
7.030 120.9
7.630 126.7
8.170 131.9
9.260 141.8
10.370 151.6
11.200 158.2
11.580 160.9

12
Figure 14: Lightbulb No. 3: Coefficient of determination vs. p.

Figure 15: Lightbulb No. 3: Coefficient G vs. p. The vertical bars are the
95% confidence intervals of G .

13

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