CONCEPT Luminescence is the generation of light without heat. There are two principal varieties of luminescence, fluorescence and phosphorescence, distinguished by the delay in reaction to external electromagnetic radiation. The ancients observed phosphorescence in the form of a glow emitted by the oceans at night, and confused this phenomenon with the burning of the chemical […]


CONCEPT Light exists along a relatively narrow bandwidth of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the region of visible light is more narrow still. Yet, within that realm are an almost infinite array of hues that quite literally give color to the entire world of human experience. Light, of course, is more than color: it is energy, […]

Electromagnetic Spectrum

CONCEPT One of the most amazing aspects of physics is the electromagnetic spectrum—radio waves, microwaves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, x rays, and gamma rays—as well as the relationship between the spectrum and electromagnetic force. The applications of the electromagnetic spectrum in daily life begin the moment a person wakes up in the morning […]


CONCEPT Most people are familiar with magnets primarily as toys, or as simple objects for keeping papers attached to a metal surface such as a refrigerator door. In fact the areas of application for magnetism are much broader, and range from security to health care to communication, transportation, and numerous other aspects of daily life. […]



CONCEPT The word ultrasonic combines the Latin roots ultra, meaning “beyond,” and sonic, or sound. The field of ultrasonics thus involves the use of sound waves outside the audible range for humans. These sounds have applications for imaging, detection, and navigation—from helping prospective parents get a glimpse of their unborn child to guiding submarines through […]


CONCEPT The area of physics known as acoustics is devoted to the study of the production, transmission, and reception of sound. Thus, wherever sound is produced and transmitted, it will have an effect somewhere, even if there is no one present to hear it. The medium of sound transmission is an all-important, key factor. Among […]


Doppler Effect

CONCEPT Almost everyone has experienced the Doppler effect, though perhaps without knowing what causes it. For example, if one is standing on a street corner and an ambulance approaches with its siren blaring, the sound of the siren steadily gains in pitch as it comes closer. Then, as it passes, the pitch suddenly lowers perceptibly. […]


CONCEPT Diffraction is the bending of waves around obstacles, or the spreading of waves by passing them through an aperture, or opening. Any type of energy that travels in a wave is capable of diffraction, and the diffraction of sound and light waves produces a number of effects. (Because sound waves are much larger than […]