In The Limelight

By Anupum Pant

If you are famous, you are “in the limelight”. There’s an interesting origin to this phrase which goes back to the theatres of 19th century.

During those times, the stage in a theatre was lit using all sorts of gas lamps. But the star of the show had to be in a sharp and focussed “limelight”. For that, well, lime was used. That is where the world limelight comes from.

Quicklime is Calcium oxide. Back in the day, in theatres, it was just another form of lighting. When it is heated at very high temperatures, at about 2400 degrees centigrade, it glows brightly. The mechanism isn’t very different from a usual bulb – which uses a filament of tungsten, heated using electricity (resistive heating). A different source of heat, hot enough to make lime glow, something like a blow torch was used. Lime was cheap, and unlike thorium oxide which could be used to do the same thing, it wasn’t radioactive. It didn’t wear easily and lasted for long times. Thus, limelight.

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