Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!
Print

Science

A spectrum of waves

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Next

White light can be split up into many colours by using a prism. This visible light is just part of the whole spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. Not all types of electromagnetic radiation are visible. Each type has a different wavelength and a different use in everyday life. Electromagnetic radiation can be used for wireless communications.

The electromagnetic spectrum

White light can be split up using a prism to form a spectrum. A prism is a block of glass with a triangular cross-section. The light waves are refracted as they enter and leave the prism. The shorter the wavelength of the light, the more it is refracted. As a result, red light is refracted the least and violet light is refracted the most, causing the coloured light to spread out to form a spectrum.

a rainbow appears to come out of the prism

Refraction from a prism

Visible light is just one type of electromagnetic radiation. There are various types of electromagnetic radiation, some with longer wavelengths than visible light and some with shorter wavelengths than visible light.

The electromagnetic spectrum

Electromagnetic waves form a continuous spectrum. You should know the order of electromagnetic waves in the spectrum (see below).

Electromagnetic waves in the spectrum

EnergyFrequencyWavelengthType of electromagnetic radiationUses
LowestLowestLongestRadio wavesTelevision signals
MicrowavesCooking, mobile phones
InfraredOptical fibre communication
Visible lightSeeing
UltravioletDetecting forged bank notes
X-raysMedical images of bones
HighestHighestShortestGamma radiationKilling cancer cells

Page:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Next

Back to Energy for the home index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.