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20th Century Inventors:
Silica Carbide Lamp

Photo of Peter and John Milewski Sr. near their home in New Mexico.

© Drs. John and Peter Milewski

Peter and John Milewski Sr, 1987
near their home in New Mexico

"I don't see any technical barriers, just financial ones."
-- John Milewski, 1996 interview

While most modern lighting innovations take place in corporate research labs, the independent inventor has not been totally displaced. A novel incandescent lamp filament made of a single crystal of silica carbide grew (literally) out of work performed in the living room "lab" of John Milewski, Sr. and his son Peter.

In 1987, Peter began work on a science fair project, and chose to investigate the possibility of using silica carbide as a heating element. He was assisted by his father, a ceramics expert working at Los Alamos National Laboratory who had spent many years studying the material. Using surplus equipment purchased from Los Alamos, they discovered that silica carbide produced good light when heated and maintained a relatively stable electrical resistance. They shifted the project from heating elements to lamp filaments.

Although the science fair project finished third, Peter could take solace in the U.S. Patent (#4,864,186) granted to he and his father in 1989. Based on this patent and building on his prior work, John Milewski established Superkinetic Inc., with the goal of making a commercial rival to the venerable tungsten filament incandescent lamp. As his statement implies, however, large companies do have certain advantages when it comes to bringing a product to market.

As of 2000, no commercial lamps have emerged from Superkinetic, but John Milewski is continuing experiments with both silica carbide and hafnium carbide filaments. Peter Milewski received a Ph.D. in chemistry from North Carolina State University in 1996 and is currently researching phosphors for Philips Lighting Company.

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