Electromagnetic Radiation

Section Overview:

Visible light is a complex phenomenon that is classically explained with a simple model based on propagating rays and wavefronts, a concept first proposed in the late 1600s by Dutch physicist Christiaan Huygens. Electromagnetic radiation, the larger family of wave-like phenomena to which visible light belongs (also known as radiant energy), is the primary vehicle transporting energy through the vast reaches of the universe. The mechanisms by which visible light is emitted or absorbed by substances, and how it predictably reacts under varying conditions as it travels through space and the atmosphere, form the basis of the existence of color in our universe.

Review Articles

The Nature of Electromagnetic Radiation

Coined by Sir James Clerk Maxwell, the term electromagnetic radiation, is derived from the characteristic electric and magnetic properties common to all forms of this wave-like energy, as manifested by the generation of both electrical and magnetic oscillating fields as the waves propagate through space. Visible light represents only a small portion of the entire spectrum of electromagnetic radiation, which extends from high-frequency cosmic and gamma rays.

Interactive Tutorials

Selected Literature References

Electromagnetic Reference Listing

The reference materials listed in this section are an excellent source of additional information on the diverse topic of electromagnetic radiation. Included are references to books, book chapters, and review articles, which discuss the theory and applications of electromagnetic radiation and how they relate to the physics of light and color.

Contributing Authors

Mortimer Abramowitz - Olympus America, Inc., Two Corporate Center Drive., Melville, New York, 11747.

Matthew Parry-Hill, Thomas J. Fellers, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.