All this would point to the possibility of obtaining a much higher efficiency with such a lamp than is obtainable in ordinary lamps. In my experience it has been demonstrated that the blocks are brought to high degrees of incandescence with much lower potentials than those determined by calculation, and the blocks may be set at greater distances from each other. We may freely assume, and it is probable, that the molecular bombardment is an important element in the heating, even if the globe be exhausted with the utmost care, as I have done; for although the number of the molecules is, comparatively speaking, insignificant, yet on account of the mean free path being very great, there are fewer collisions, and the molecules may reach much higher speeds, so that the heating effect due to this cause may be considerable, as in the Crookes experiments with radiant matter.
But it is likewise possible that we have to deal here with an increased facility of losing the charge in very high vacuum, when the potential is rapidly alternating, in which case most of the heating would be directly due to the surging of the charges in the heated bodies. Or else the observed fact may be largely attributable to the effect of the points which I have mentioned above, in consequence of which the blocks or filaments contained in the vacuum are equivalent to condensers of many times greater surface than that calculated from their geometrical dimensions. Scientific men still differ in opinion as to whether a charge should, or should not, be lost in a perfect vacuum, or. in other words, whether ether is, or is not, a conductor. If the former were the case, then a thin filament enclosed in a perfectly exhausted globe, and connected to a source of enormous, steady potential, would be brought to incandescence.
Various forms of lamps on the above described principle, with the refractory bodies in the form of filaments, Fig. 20, or blocks, Fig. 21, have been constructed and operated by me, and investigations are being carried on in this line. There is no difficulty in reaching such high degrees of incandescence that ordinary carbon is to all appearance melted and volatilized. If the vacuum could be made absolutely perfect, such a lamp, although inoperative with apparatus ordinarily used, would, if operated with currents of the required character, afford an illuminant which would never be destroyed, and which would be far more efficient than an ordinary incandescent lamp. This perfection can, of course, never be reached; and a very slow destruction and gradual diminution in size always occurs, as in incandescent filaments; but there is no possibility of a sudden and premature disabling which occurs in the latter by the breaking of the filament, especially when the incandescent bodies are in the shape of blocks.
With these rapidly alternating potentials there is, however, no necessity of enclosing two blocks in a globe, but a single block, as in Fig. 19, or filament, Fig. 22, may be used. The potential in this case must of course be higher, but is easily obtainable, and besides it is not necessarily dangerous.