This is a phase angle control of a Triac which is a evolution from an SCR. The 50 Hz or 60 Hz Sine wave of mains can be turned on at any point after the Zero Crossing.
Design Notes - Power Electronics
The Voltage ramps up in the sine wave which gives a near "Linear" slope which can be used to trigger the ON at a time delay after zero crossing when the voltage is zero. This is like a PWM but works on low frequency only.
Some of the early SMPS(HV for TV and Mains Inverter) by Siemens were built around SCRs. Turning off a SCR is a difficult job for a designer, MOSFETS and IGBT are now used for PWM drive stages.
High Energy Circuits
You can use it with a bulb to vary brightness of bulb, this is a live circuit it can give a shock, enclose in plastic box, the pot should have a plastic knob, use a fuse, you can also use it for temperature control of soldering irons.