Electromagnetic Waves

Category : UPSC

 Electromagnetic Waves


1.           Radio Waves


  • Radio waves are produced by the accelerated motion of charges in conducting wires.
  • They are used in radio and television communication systems.
  • They are generally in the frequency range from 500 kHz to about 1000 MHz. The AM (amplitude modulated) band is from 530 kHz to 1710 kHz. Higher frequencies upto 54 MHz are used for short wave bands.
  • TV waves range from 54 MHz to 890 MHz. The FM (frequency modulated) radio band extends from 88 MHz to 108 MHz. Cellular phones use radio waves to transmit voice communication in the ultrahigh frequency (UHF) band.


2.           Microwaves


 Microwaves (short-wavelength radio waves), with frequencies in the gigahertz (GHz) range, are produced by special vacuum tubes (called klystrons, magnetrons and Gunn diodes).

  • Due to their short wavelengths, they are suitable for the radar systems used in aircraft navigation. Radar also provides the basis for the speed guns used to time fast balls, tennisserves, and automobiles.
  • Microwave ovens are an interesting domestic application of these waves. In such ovens, the frequency of the microwaves is selected to match the resonant frequency of water molecules so that energy from the waves is transferred efficiently to the kinetic energy of the molecules. This raises the temperature of any food containing water.



3.           Microwave Oven


  • The spectrum of electromagnetic radiation contains a part known as microwaves. These waves have frequency and energy smaller than visible light and wavelength larger than it. What is the principle of a microwave oven and how does it work?
  • Our objective is to cook food or warm it up. All food items such as fruit, vegetables, meat, cereals, etc., contain water as a constituent. Now, what does it mean when we say that a certain object has become warmer? When the temperature of a body rises, the energy of the random motion of atoms and molecules increases and the molecules travel or vibrate or rotate with higher energies.
  • The frequency of rotation of water molecules is about 300 crore hertz, which is 3 gigahertz (GHz). If water receives microwaves of this frequency, its molecules absorb this radiation, which is equivalent to heating up water. These molecules share this energy with neighbouring food molecules, heating up the food.
  • One should use porcelain vessels and not metal containers in a microwave oven because of the danger of getting a shock from accumulated electric charges. Metals may also; melt from heating.                                
  • The porcelain container remains unaffected and cool, because its large molecules vibrate and rotate with much smaller frequencies, and thus cannot absorb microwaves. Hence, they do not get heated up.
  • Thus, the basic principle of a microwave oven is to generate microwave radiation of appropriate frequency in the working space of the oven where we keep food. This way energy is not wasted in hearing up the vessel.
  • In the conventional heating method, the vessel on the burner gets heated first, and then the food inside gets heated because of transfer of energy from the vessel. In the microwave oven, on the other hand, energy is directly delivered to water molecules which is shared by the entire food.



4.           Infrared Waves


  • Infrared waves are produced by hot bodies and molecules. This band lies adjacent to the low-frequency or long-wave length end of the visible spectrum.
  • Infrared waves are sometimes referred to as heat waves. This is because water molecules present in most materials readily absorb infrared waves (many other molecules, for example, \[C{{O}_{2}}\], \[N{{H}_{3}}\], also absorb infrared waves).
  • After absorption, their thermal motion increases, that is, they heat up and heat their surroundings. Infrared lamps are used in physical therapy. Infrared radiation also plays an important role in maintaining the earth's warmth or average temperature through the greenhouse effect. Incoming visible light (which passes relatively easily through the. atmosphere) is absorbed by the earth's surface and reradiated as infrared (longer wavelength): radiations.
  • This radiation is trapped by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapour. Infrared detectors are used in Earth satellites, both for military purposes and to observe growth of crops. Electronic devices (for example semiconductor light emitting diodes) also emit infrared and are widely used in the remote switches of household electronic systems such as TV sets, video recorders and hi-fi systems.


5.           Visible Rays


  • It is the most familiar form of electromagnetic waves. It is the part of the spectrum that is detected by the human eye.
  • It runs from about \[4\times {{10}^{14}}\] Hz to about \[7\times {{10}^{14}}\] Hz or a wavelength range of about nm. Visible light emitted or reflected from objects around us provides us information about the world. Our eyes are sensitive to this range of wavelengths. Different animals are sensitive to different range of wavelengths.
  • For example, snakes can detect infrared waves, and the 'visible' range of many insects extends well into the utraviolet.



6.           Ultraviolet Rays


  • It covers wavelengths ranging from about \[4\times {{10}^{-7}}\] m (400 nm) down to \[6\times {{10}^{-10}}\]m (0.6 nm). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is produced by special lamps and very hot bodies.
  • The sun is an important source of ultraviolet light. But fortunately, most of it is absorbed in the ozone layer in the atmosphere at an altitude of about \[40-50\]km. UV light in large quantities has harmful effects on humans. Exposure to UV radiation induces the production of more melanin, causing tanning of the skin.
  • UV radiation is absorbed by ordinary glass. Hence, one cannot get tanned or sunburn through glass windows.
  • Welders wear special glass goggles or face masks with glass windows to protect their eyes from large amount ofUV produced by welding arcs. Due to its shorter wavelengths, UV radiations can be focussed into very narrow beams for high precision applications such as LASIK (Laserassisted in situ keratomileusis) eye surgery. UV lamps are used to kill germs in water purifiers.



7.           X-rays


  • Beyond the UV region of the electromagnetic spectrum lies the X-ray region. We are familiar with X-rays because of its medical applications.
  • It covers wavelengths from about \[{{10}^{-8}}\] m (10 nm) down to \[{{10}^{-13}}\] m (\[{{10}^{-4}}\] nm).
  • One common way to generate X-rays is to bombard a metal target by high energy electrons. X-rays are used as a diagnostic tool in medicine and as a treatment for certain forms of cancer. Because X-rays damage or destroy living tissues and organisms, care must be taken to avoid unnecessary or over exposure.



8.           Important Facts


  • Gamma Rays are in the upper frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum and have wavelengths of from about \[{{10}^{-10}}\]m to less than \[{{10}^{-14}}\] m. This high frequency radiation is produced in nuclear reactions and also emitted by radioactive nuclei. They are used in medicine to destroy cancer cells.
  • Infrared waves, with frequencies lower than those of visible light, vibrate not only the electrons, but entire atoms or molecules of a substance. This vibration increases the internal energy and consequently, the temperature of the substance. This is why infrared waves are often called heat waves.
  • The centre of sensitivity of our eyes coincides with the centre of the wavelength distribution of the sun. It is because humans have evolved with visions most sensitive to the strongest wavelengths from the sun.

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