Tesla – Lecture at Columbia University

The success of lamps of this kind would depend largely on the selection of the light-giving bodies contained within the bulb. Since, under the conditions described, refractory bodies—which are very poor conductors and capable of withstanding for a long time excessively high degrees of temperature—may be used, such illuminating devices may be rendered successful.
It might be thought at first that if the bulb, containing the filament or button of refractory material, be perfectly well exhausted—that is, as far as it can be done by the use of the best apparatus—the heating would be much less intense, and that in a perfect vacuum it could not occur at all. This is not confirmed by my experience; quite the contrary, the better the vacuum the more easily the bodies are brought to incandescence. This result is interesting for many reasons.
At the outset of this work the idea presented itself to me, whether two bodies of refractory material enclosed in a bulb exhausted to such a degree that the discharge of a large induction coil, operated in the usual manner, cannot pass through, could be rendered incandescent by mere condenser action. Obviously, to reach this result enormous potential differences and very high frequencies are required, as is evident from a simple calculation.
But such a lamp would possess a vast advantage over an ordinary incandescent lamp in regard to efficiency. It is well-known that the efficiency of a lamp is to some extent a function of the degree of incandescence, and that, could we but work a filament at many times higher degrees of incandescence, the efficiency would be much greater. In an ordinary lamp this is impracticable on account of the destruction of the filament, and it has been determined by experience how far it is advisable to push the incandescence. It is impossible to tell how much higher efficiency could be obtained if the filament could withstand indefinitely, as the investigation to this end obviously cannot be carried beyond a certain stage; but there are reasons for believing that it would be very considerably higher. An improvement might be made in the ordinary lamp by employing a short and thick carbon; but then the leading-in wires would have to be thick, and, besides, there ace many other considerations which render such a modification entirely impracticable. But in a lamp as above described, the leading-in wires may be very small, the incandescent refractory material may be in the shape of blocks offering a very small radiating surface, so that less energy would be required to keep them at the desired incandescence; and in addition to this, the refractory material need not be carbon, but may be manufactured from mixtures of oxides, for instance, with carbon or other material, or may be selected from bodies which are practically non-conductors, and capable of withstanding enormous degrees of temperature.