Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays. It is so named because the spectrum consists of electromagnetic waves with frequencies higher than those that humans identify as the color violet.
UV light is typically found as part of the radiation received by the Earth from the Sun. Most humans are aware of the effects of UV through the painful condition of sunburn. The UV spectrum has many other effects, including both beneficial and damaging changes to human health.
|Name||Abbreviation||Wavelength range in nanometers||Energy per photon|
|Ultraviolet A, long wave, or black light||UVA||400 nm – 315 nm||3.10 – 3.94 eV|
|Near||NUV||400 nm – 300 nm||3.10 – 4.13 eV|
|Ultraviolet B or medium wave||UVB||315 nm – 280 nm||3.94 – 4.43 eV|
|Middle||MUV||300 nm – 200 nm||4.13 – 6.20 eV|
|Ultraviolet C, short wave, or germicidal||UVC||280 nm – 100 nm||4.43 – 12.4 eV|
|Far||FUV||200 nm – 122 nm||6.20 – 10.2 eV|
|Vacuum||VUV||200 nm – 10 nm||6.20 – 124 eV|
|Extreme||EUV||121 nm – 10 nm||10.2 – 124 eV|
In photolithography, in laser technology, etc., the term deep ultraviolet or DUV refers to wavelengths below 300 nm. "Vacuum UV" is so named because it is absorbed strongly by air and is therefore used in a vacuum. In the long-wave limit of this region, roughly 150–200 nm, the principal absorber is the oxygen in air. Work in this region can be performed in an oxygen free atmosphere, pure nitrogen being commonly used, which avoids the need for a vacuum chamber.
See 1 E-7 m for a list of objects of comparable sizes.
A black light, or Wood's light, is a lamp that emits long wave UV radiation and very little visible light. Commonly these are referred to as simply a "UV light". Fluorescent black lights are typically made in the same fashion as normal fluorescent lights except that only one phosphor is used and the normally clear glass envelope of the bulb may be replaced by a deep-bluish-purple glass called Wood's glass, a nickel-oxide–doped glass, which blocks almost all visible light above 400 nanometers. The color of such lamps is often referred to in the trade as "blacklight blue" or "BLB." This is to distinguish these lamps from "bug zapper" blacklight ("BL") lamps that don't have the blue Wood's glass. The phosphor typically used for a near 368 to 371 nanometer emission peak is either europium-doped strontium fluoroborate (SrB4O7F:Eu2+) or europium-doped strontium borate (SrB4O7:Eu2+) while the phosphor used to produce a peak around 350 to 353 nanometers is lead-doped barium silicate (BaSi2O5:Pb+). "Blacklight Blue" lamps peak at 365 nm.
While "black lights" do produce light in the UV range, their spectrum is confined to the longwave UVA region. Unlike UVB and UVC, which are responsible for the direct DNA damage that leads to skin cancer, black light is limited to lower energy, longer waves and does not cause sunburn. However, UVA is capable of causing damage to collagen fibers and destroying vitamin A in skin.
A black light may also be formed by simply using Wood's glass instead of clear glass as the envelope for a common incandescent bulb. This was the method used to create the very first black light sources. Though it remains a cheaper alternative to the fluorescent method, it is exceptionally inefficient at producing UV light (a mere few lumens per watt) owing to the black body nature of the incandescent light source. Incandescent UV bulbs, due to their inefficiency, may also become dangerously hot during use. More rarely still, high power (hundreds of watts) mercury vapor black lights can be found which use a UV emitting phosphor and an envelope of Wood's glass. These lamps are used mainly for theatrical and concert displays and also become very hot during normal use.
Some UV fluorescent bulbs specifically designed to attract insects for use in bug zappers use the same near-UV emitting phosphor as normal blacklights, but use plain glass instead of the more expensive Wood's glass. Plain glass blocks less of the visible mercury emission spectrum, making them appear light blue to the naked eye. These lamps are referred to as "blacklight" or "BL" in most lighting catalogs.
Ultraviolet light can also be generated by some light-emitting diodes.
Ordinary glass is partially transparent to UVA but is opaque to shorter wavelengths while Silica or quartz glass, depending on quality, can be transparent even to vacuum UV wavelengths. Ordinary window glass passes about 90% of the light above 350 nm, but blocks over 90% of the light below 300 nm.
The onset of vacuum UV, 200 nm, is defined by the fact that ordinary air is opaque below this wavelength. This opacity is due to the strong absorption of light of these wavelengths by oxygen in the air. Pure nitrogen (less than about 10 ppm oxygen) is transparent to wavelengths in the range of about 150–200 nm. This has wide practical significance now that semiconductor manufacturing processes are using wavelengths shorter than 200 nm. By working in oxygen-free gas, the equipment does not have to be built to withstand the pressure differences required to work in a vacuum. Some other scientific instruments, such as circular dichroism spectrometers, are also commonly nitrogen purged and operate in this spectral region.
Extreme UV is characterized by a transition in the physics of interaction with matter: wavelengths longer than about 30 nm interact mainly with the chemical valence electrons of matter, while wavelengths shorter than that interact mainly with inner shell electrons and nuclei. The long end of the EUV/XUV spectrum is set by a prominent He+ spectral line at 30.4nm. XUV is strongly absorbed by most known materials, but it is possible to synthesize multilayer optics that reflect up to about 50% of XUV radiation at normal incidence. This technology has been used to make telescopes for solar imaging; it was pioneered by the NIXT and MSSTA sounding rockets in the 1990s; (current examples are SOHO/EIT and TRACE) and for nanolithography (printing of traces and devices on microchips).
Many countries have fortified certain foods with Vitamin D to prevent deficiency. Eating fortified foods or taking a dietary supplement pill is usually preferred to UVB exposure, due to the increased risk of skin cancer from UV radiation.
Too little UVB radiation leads to a lack of Vitamin D. Too much UVB radiation leads to direct DNA damages and sunburn. An appropriate amount of UVB (What is appropriate depends on your skin colour) leads to a limited amount of direct DNA damage. This is recognized and repaired by the body. Then the melanin production is increased which leads to a long lasting tan. This tan occurs with a 2 day lag phase after irradiation, but it is much less harmful and long lasting than the one obtained from UVA.
Ultraviolet radiation has other medical applications, in the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis and vitiligo. UVA radiation can be used in conjunction with psoralens (PUVA treatment). UVB radiation is rarely used in conjunction with psoralens. In cases of psoriasis and vitiligo, UV light with wavelength of 311 nm is most effective.
UVC rays are the highest energy, most dangerous type of ultraviolet light. Little attention has been given to UVC rays in the past since they are filtered out by the atmosphere. However, their use in equipment such as pond sterilization units may pose an exposure risk, if the lamp is switched on outside of its enclosed pond sterilization unit.
UVB light can cause direct DNA damage. The radiation excites DNA molecules in skin cells, causing aberrant covalent bonds to form between adjacent cytosine bases, producing a dimer. When DNA polymerase comes along to replicate this strand of DNA, it reads the dimer as "AA" and not the original "CC". This causes the DNA replication mechanism to add a "TT" on the growing strand. This is a mutation, which can result in cancerous growths and is known as a "classical C-T mutation". The mutations that are caused by the direct DNA damage carry a UV signature mutation that is commonly seen in skin cancers. The mutagenicity of UV radiation can be easily observed in bacteria cultures. This cancer connection is one reason for concern about ozone depletion and the ozone hole. UVB causes some damage to collagen but at a very much slower rate than UVA.
As a defense against UV radiation, the amount of the brown pigment melanin in the skin increases when exposed to moderate (depending on skin type) levels of radiation; this is commonly known as a sun tan. The purpose of melanin is to absorb UV radiation and dissipate the energy as harmless heat, blocking the UV from damaging skin tissue. UVA gives a quick tan that lasts for days by oxidizing melanin that was already present and triggers the release of the melanin from melanocytes. UVB yields a tan that takes roughly 2 days to develop because it stimulates the body to produce more melanin. The photochemical properties of melanin make it an excellent photoprotectant. However, sunscreen chemicals can not dissipate the energy of the excited state as efficiently as melanin and therefore the penetration of sunscreen ingredients into the lower layers of the skin is increasing the amount of free radicals and ROS.
Sunscreen prevents the direct DNA damage which causes sunburn. Most of these products contain an SPF rating to show how well they block UVB rays. The SPF rating, however, offers no data about UVA protection. In the US, the FDA is considering adding a star rating system to show UVA protection. A similar system is already used in some European countries.
Some sunscreen lotions now include compounds such as titanium dioxide which helps protect against UVA rays. Other UVA blocking compounds found in sunscreen include zinc oxide and avobenzone. Cantaloupe extract, rich in the compound superoxide dismutase (SOD), can be bound with gliadin to form glisodin, an orally-effective protectant against UVB radiation. There are also naturally occurring compounds found in rainforest plants that have been known to protect the skin from UV radiation damage, such as the fern Phlebodium aureum.
However, some sunscreen chemicals produce potentially harmful substances if they are illuminated while in contact with living cells. The amount of sunscreen which penetrates through the stratum corneum may or may not be large enough to cause damage. In one study of sunscreens, the authors write:
The question whether UV filters acts on or in the skin has so far not been fully answered. Despite the fact that an answer would be a key to improve formulations of sun protection products, many publications carefully avoid addressing this question.
In an experiment that was published in 2006 by Hanson et al, the amount of harmful reactive oxygen species (ROS) had been measured in untreated and in sunscreen treated skin. In the first 20 minutes the film of sunscreen had a protective effect and the number of ROS species was smaller. After 60 minutes however the amount of absorbed sunscreen was so high, that the amount of ROS was higher in the sunscreen treated skin than in the untreated skin.
Protective eyewear is beneficial to those who are working with or those who might be exposed to ultraviolet radiation, particularly short wave UV. Given that light may reach the eye from the sides, full coverage eye protection is usually warranted if there is an increased risk of exposure, as in high altitude mountaineering. Mountaineers are exposed to higher than ordinary levels of UV radiation, both because there is less atmospheric filtering and because of reflection from snow and ice.
Ordinary, untreated eyeglasses give some protection. Most plastic lenses give more protection than glass lenses, because, as noted above, glass is transparent to UVA and the common acrylic plastic used for lenses is less so. Some plastic lens materials, such as polycarbonate, inherently block most UV. There are protective treatments available for eyeglass lenses that need it which will give better protection. But even a treatment that completely blocks UV will not protect the eye from light that arrives around the lens.
It is known as UV degradation, and is one form of polymer degradation. Sensitive polymers include thermoplastics, such as polypropylene and polyethylene as well as speciality fibres like aramids. UV absorption leads to chain degradation and loss of strength at sensitive points in the chain structure. They include tertiary carbon atoms, which in polypropylene occur in every repeat unit.
In addition, many pigments and dyes absorb UV and change colour, so paintings and textiles may need extra protection both from sunlight and fluorescent lamps, two common sources of UV radiation. Old and antique paintings such as watercolour paintings for example, usually need to be placed away from direct sunlight. Common window glass provides some protection by absorbing some of the harmful UV, but valuable artifacts need shielding.
In sunscreen, ingredients which absorb UVA/UVB rays, such as avobenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, are known as absorbers. They are contrasted with physical "blockers" of UV radiation such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. (See sunscreen for a more complete list.)
To help thwart counterfeiters, sensitive documents (e.g. credit cards, driver's licenses, passports) may also include a UV watermark that can only be seen when viewed under a UV-emitting light. Passports issued by most countries usually contain UV sensitive inks and security threads. Visa stamps and stickers on passports of visitors contain large and detailed seals invisible to the naked eye under normal lights, but strongly visible under UV illumination. Passports issued by many nations have UV sensitive watermarks on all pages of the passport. Currencies of various countries' banknotes have an image, as well as many multicolored fibers, that are visible only under ultraviolet light.
Some brands of pepper spray will leave an invisible chemical (UV Dye) that is not easily washed off on a pepper sprayed attacker, which would help police identify them later.
The main mercury emission wavelength is in the UVC range. Unshielded exposure of the skin or eyes to mercury arc lamps that do not have a conversion phosphor is quite dangerous.
The light from a mercury lamp is predominantly at discrete wavelengths. Other practical UV sources with more continuous emission spectra include xenon arc lamps (commonly used as sunlight simulators), deuterium arc lamps, mercury-xenon arc lamps, metal-halide arc lamps, and tungsten-halogen incandescent lamps.
In astronomy, very hot objects preferentially emit UV radiation (see Wien's law). Because the ozone layer blocks many UV frequencies from reaching telescopes on the surface of the Earth, most UV observations are made from space. (See UV astronomy, space observatory.)
Many insects use the ultraviolet wavelength emissions from celestial objects as references for flight navigation. A local ultraviolet emissor will normally disrupt the navigation process and will eventually attract the flying insect.
Ultraviolet traps called bug zappers are used to eliminate various small flying insects. They are attracted to the UV light, and are killed using an electric shock, or trapped once they come into contact with the device. Different designs of ultraviolet light traps are also used by entomologists for collecting nocturnal insects during faunistic survey studies.
Ultraviolet lamps are also used in analyzing minerals, gems, and in other detective work including authentication of various collectibles. Materials may look the same under visible light, but fluoresce to different degrees under ultraviolet light; or may fluoresce differently under short wave ultraviolet versus long wave ultraviolet.
Typical treatment regimes involve short exposure to UVB rays 3 to 5 times a week at a hospital or clinic, and for the best results, up to 30 or more sessions may be required.
Side effects may include itching and redness of the skin due to UVB exposure, and possibly sunburn, if patients do not minimize exposure to natural UV rays during treatment days.
Ultraviolet lamps are used to sterilize workspaces and tools used in biology laboratories and medical facilities. Commercially-available low pressure mercury-vapor lamps emit about 86% of their light at 254 nanometers (nm) which coincides very well with one of the two peaks of the germicidal effectiveness curve (i.e., effectiveness for UV absorption by DNA). One of these peaks is at about 265 nm and the other is at about 185 nm. Although 185 nm is better absorbed by DNA, the quartz glass used in commercially-available lamps, as well as environmental media such as water, are more opaque to 185 nm than 254 nm (C. von Sonntag et al., 1992). UV light at these germicidal wavelengths causes adjacent thymine molecules on DNA to dimerize, if enough of these defects accumulate on a microorganism's DNA its replication is inhibited, thereby rendering it harmless (even though the organism may not be killed outright). However, since microorganisms can be shielded from ultraviolet light in small cracks and other shaded areas, these lamps are used only as a supplement to other sterilization techniques.
New York City has approved the construction of a 2 billion gallon per day ultraviolet drinking water disinfection facility. There are also several facilities under construction and several in operation that treat waste water with several stages of filters, hydrogen peroxide and UV light to bring the water up to drinking standards. One such facility exists in Orange County California.
It used to be thought that UV disinfection was more effective for bacteria and viruses, which have more exposed genetic material, than for larger pathogens which have outer coatings or that form cyst states (e.g., Giardia) that shield their DNA from the UV light. However, it was recently discovered that ultraviolet radiation can be somewhat effective for treating the microorganism Cryptosporidium. The findings resulted in two US patents and the use of UV radiation as a viable method to treat drinking water. Giardia in turn has been shown to be very susceptible to UV-C when the tests were based on infectivity rather than excystation. It has been found that protists are able to survive high UV-C doses but are sterilized at low doses.
Solar water disinfection (SODIS) has been extensively researched in Switzerland and has proven ideal to treat small quantities of water cheaply using natural sunlight. Contaminated water is poured into transparent plastic bottles and exposed to full sunlight for six hours. The sunlight treats the contaminated water through two synergetic mechanisms: UV-A irradiation and increased water temperature. If the water temperatures rises above 50 °C, the disinfection process is three times faster.
UV detectors are sensitive to most fires, including hydrocarbons, metals, sulfur, hydrogen, hydrazine, and ammonia. Arc welding, electrical arcs, lightning, X-rays used in nondestructive metal testing equipment (though this is highly unlikely), and radioactive materials can produce levels that will activate a UV detection system. The presence of UV-absorbing gases and vapors will attenuate the UV radiation from a fire, adversely affecting the ability of the detector to detect flames. Likewise, the presence of an oil mist in the air or an oil film on the detector window will have the same effect.
An industry has developed around the manufacture of UV lamps sourced for UV curing applictions. Fast processes such as flexo or offset printing require high intensity light focused via reflectors onto a moving substrate and medium and high pressure Hg (mercury) or Fe (iron) based bulbs are used which can be energised with electric arc or microwaves. Lower power fluorescent lamps can be used for static applications and in some cases, small high pressure lamps can have light focused and transmitted to the work area via liquid filled or fibre optic light guides.
Radtech is a trade association dedicated to the promotion of this technology.