Most homeowners have a flashlight stashed somewhere in the house in case of an emergency or unexpected power outage. With a simple flick or press of a button, you easily trigger a steady source of light — but how exactly are flashlights able to produce light in situations when you need it most? Asking how a flashlight works is a common question, and we’re here to provide an answer!
Parts of a Flashlight
While flashlights look like they’d have simple mechanisms on the outside, several smaller pieces are working together inside the body to produce light. Typical flashlights contain the following components:
- Casing: The case is the outer, protective housing that protects the inner mechanisms of the flashlight, including the batteries and light bulb.
- Contacts: Throughout the body of the flashlight, there’s a thin strip of copper or brass metal that creates an electrical connection between the batteries, lamp and switch — this component is the contact.
- Switch: To trigger the flashlight on or off, users activate the switch, which either signals the flow of electricity to turn the light on or breaks the connection to turn the flashlight off.
- Reflector: At the front of the flashlight, situated around the light bulb, is a layer of plastic and aluminum, known as the reflector. This piece redirects the bulb’s rays into a steady beam.
- Lamp: The lamp is the light bulb the flashlight uses to emit light, typically a tungsten filament or an LED bulb.
- Lens: Protecting the lamp from damage is the clear, plastic lens placed over the front of the flashlight.
- Power source: When activated, the flashlight’s power source — often a set of batteries — is used to keep the device on.
How Does a Flashlight Produce Light?
When the flashlight’s switch is activated, it makes contact between two of the contact strips that run up and down the length of the flashlight, completing the connection and creating a steady flow of electricity. These contacts connect to a spring placed at the base of the batteries.
The spring is connected to the battery, allowing electricity to flow from the positive terminal of the battery throughout the lamp and back to the negative terminal of the battery. This exchange of electricity allows the bulb or LED to glow. Once the bulb is activated, the reflector targets that new light into a steady beam directed forward and out through the lens.
When the switch is clicked off, the contact strips are physically separated, breaking the pathway for the electric current to travel and turning the light off. If your flashlight isn’t working correctly, there’s likely an interruption in the electrical connection, preventing the flow of power and keeping the flashlight from illuminating.
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