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Radio waves have a minimum wavelength of about 30cm.

They
pass through most materials which makes them very useful.
Radio waves are most often used in communications and for TV
and radio broadcasting.

Radio waves are made by an alternating current in an aerial.


Radio waves do not have any specific dangers. It is for this
reason that they are so widely used for communication.

Microwaves have a wavelength between 30 and 0.1 cm. They


are reflected by metals, but absorbed by living tissue and other
materials, depending on the wavelength.
As they are absorbed by living tissue, one of the commercial
uses for them is in microwave ovens! As the food absorbs the
microwaves, the microwave transfers the energy to the food
and heats it up.

Microwaves are created by an alternating current in an aerial


coupled with a magnetron.
Other uses for microwaves are in radar and in communications
through mobile phones.
A number of studies have been done into radio waves and their
link to cancer. The main cause for concern is that microwaves
may be absorbed by living tissue over a lifetime of using mobile
phones and cause cancers of the brain/ear in old age. However,
none of these studies has proved conclusively that radio waves
can cause cancer. This doesnt stop people from campaigning
when mobile phone masts are going to be built in their area
though!

Thinking point: What could be a reason that none of the


studies have found links between microwaves and cancer?

Infrared waves have a wavelength between 1mm and 790


nanometres. They are reflected by shiny surfaces, but absorbed
by some materials, depending on the wavelength. Skin detects
some wavelengths as heat.

Infrared waves are given off by ALL hot objects.


Uses of infrared waves are extremely varied. They are used in
remote controls, for cooking food, heating and thermal
imaging! However, long term exposure to infrared waves can
cause burns!

Visible light waves have a wavelength between 790 and 390


nanometres. They are reflected by shiny surfaces, but absorbed
by some materials, depending on the wavelength. Cells in the
eyes are specially adapted to detecting visible light.

Visible light is given off by very hot objects. In a filament light


bulb, tungsten filament is heated to extremely high
temperatures (approximately 1600oC!) and glows white hot,
releasing visible light.
Other sources of visible light are in electric discharge
(lightning!) and in chemical and nuclear reactions (fusion
reactions in the sun release HUGE amounts of visible light!).

Visible light is most commonly used in imaging and more


recently, optical fibre communications. As information can be
transferred at the speed of light in fibre optic cables, very high
speed communication is possible. This makes fibre optics very
useful for things such as internet/broadband!

Ultraviolet waves have a wavelength between 390 and 10


nanometres. They are absorbed by some materials, including
skin, and can cause some materials to emit light. When this
occurs, it is called fluorescence!

Ultraviolet waves are made whenever there are sparks, during


arc welding and electronic discharge (lightning!).
UV rays are sometimes used in security marking. Marks are
often put on currency that is only visible under UV light that
allow counterfeit notes to be easily spotted.
A modern use of UV rays is in tanning beds. The skin absorbs
them and creates melanin, which causes the skin to get darker
or tan. However, overexposure to UV rays can greatly increase
the chances of melanoma, otherwise known as skin cancer!
UV rays are known to be harmful. The earth has a layer of
ozone that absorbs harmful UV rays. This is one of the reasons
why people get extremely worried when studies find that the
ozone layer is being depleted by harmful chemicals!
They are also used in attracting insects, which are then zapped!

X-rays have a wavelength between 10 and 0.1 nanometres.


They pass through most materials, including skin, but are
absorbed by dense materials!

X-rays are made in an x-ray tube. They are used in medical


imaging and for security at airports and seeing into suitcases.
However, they can be EXTREMELY dangerous. They have very
high energies and prolonged exposure to x-rays can greatly
increase the chances of cancer!
Medical staff that are exposed to x-rays use a number of
methods to protect themselves from overexposure. This
includes standing behind lead shields when taking x-rays and
having photographic film badges that allow them to monitor
exposure.

Gamma rays have a wavelength of less than 0.1 nanometres.


They pass through most materials, including skin, but are
absorbed by dense materials!

They are created during radioactive decay and can be


EXTREMELY dangerous. Although the Incredible Hulk was
created when Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma rays,
prolonged exposure to gamma rays actually greatly increases
the chances of cancer!
However, they are also very useful! They are used in sterilizing
medical instruments and even some foods! This can be a lot
cheaper than other methods of sterilizing and is guaranteed to
kill any harmful bacteria lurking around!
Although they can cause cancer, they can also be used to treat
it. A concentrated burst of gamma rays targeted at a tumour
can kill it and can be a lot safer than surgical options!