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UV Presentation

Ultraviolet Light

Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than soft 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 (purple).

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.

The discovery of UV radiation was intimately associated with the observation that silver salts darken when exposed to sunlight. In 1801 the German physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter made the hallmark observation that invisible rays just beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum were especially effective at darkening silver chloride-soaked paper. He called them “de-oxidizing rays” to emphasize their chemical reactivity and to distinguish them from “heat rays” at the other end of the visible spectrum. The simpler term “chemical rays” was adopted shortly thereafter, and it remained popular throughout the 19th century. The terms chemical and heat rays were eventually dropped in favor of ultraviolet and infrared radiation, respectively.

Origin of term
The name means “beyond violet” (from Latin ultra, “beyond”), violet being the color of the shortest wavelengths of visible light. UV light has a shorter wavelength than that of violet light.


The part of the electromagnetic spectrum which ultraviolet light covers can be further subdivided in several different overlapping ways:

Name Abbreviation Wavelength range in nanometers Energy per photon
Near NUV 400 nm – 200 nm 3.10 – 6.20 eV
UVA, long wave, or black light 400 nm – 320 nm 3.10 – 3.87 eV
UVB or medium wave 320 nm – 280 nm 3.87 – 4.43 eV
UVC, short wave, or germicidal Below 280 nm 4.43 – 6.20 eV
Far or vacuum UV FUV, VUV 200 nm – 10 nm 6.20 – 124 eV
Extreme or deep UV EUV, XUV 31 nm – 1 nm 40 – 1240 eV

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.

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 used in vacuums.

Black light

Main article: Black light

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 long wave UVA region. UVA is considered the safest of the three spectrums of UV light. Unlike UVB and UVC which are responsible for the DNA damage that leads to skin cancer, black light is limited to lower energy, longer waves and does not cause sunburn. UVA is capable of causing damage to collagen fibers, so it does have the potential to accelerate skin aging, cause wrinkles and potentially destroy vitamin A in your 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 black light, 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 be also generated by some light-emitting diodes.

Natural sources of UV

The Sun emits ultraviolet radiation in the UVA, UVB, and UVC bands, but because of absorption in the atmosphere’s ozone layer, 98.7% of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface is UVA. (Some of the UVB and UVC radiation is responsible for the generation of the ozone layer.)

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.[2][3][4]

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 reflects 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).

Human Health Related Effects of UV Radiation

Beneficial effects

A positive effect of UVB exposure is that it induces the production of vitamin D in the skin. It has been proven that exposure to UV radiation can cause severe sun burn and skin cancer. Fortunately the Earths atmosphere blocks UV radiation from penetrating through the atmosphere by 98.7% and the rest is not nearly enough to harm human skin. It has been estimated that tens of thousands of premature deaths occur in the United States annually from a range of cancers due to vitamin D deficiency.[5] Another effect of vitamin D deficiency is osteomalacia (the adult equivalent of rickets), which can result in bone pain, difficulty in weight bearing and sometimes fractures. Other studies show most people get adequate Vitamin D through food and incidental exposure.[6]

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.[6]
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.

Harmful effects

In humans, prolonged exposure to solar UV radiation may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye, and immune system.[7]

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.

Ultraviolet photons harm the DNA molecules of living organisms in different ways. In one common damage event, adjacent Thymine bases bond with each other, instead of across the “ladder”. This makes a bulge, and the distorted DNA molecule does not function properly.

“ Ultraviolet (UV) irradiation present in sunlight is an environmental human carcinogen. The toxic effects of UV from natural sunlight and therapeutic artificial lamps are a major concern for human health. The major acute effects of UV irradiation on normal human skin comprise sunburn inflammation erythema, tanning, and local or systemic immunosuppression.

— Matsumura and Ananthaswamy , (2004)[8]

UVA, UVB and UVC can all damage collagen fibers and thereby accelerate aging of the skin. Both UVA and UVB destroy vitamin A in skin which may cause further damage.[9]

In general, UVA is the least harmful, but can contribute to the aging of skin, and possibly even skin cancer. It penetrates deeply and does not cause sunburn. UVA is also capable of damaging DNA. UVA does not damage DNA directly like UVB and UVC, but it can generate highly reactive chemical intermediates, such as hydroxyl and oxygen radicals, which in turn can damage DNA. Because it does not cause reddening of the skin (erythema) it cannot be measured in the SPF testing. There is no good clinical measurement of the blocking of UVA radiation, but it is important that sunscreen block both UVA and UVB.

The reddening of the skin due to the action of sunlight depends both on the amount of sunlight as well as the sensitivity of the skin (“erythemal action spectrum”) over the UV spectrum.

UVB light can cause skin cancer. The radiation excites DNA molecules in skin cells, causing covalent bonds to form between adjacent thymine bases, producing thymidine dimmers. Thymidine dimmers do not base pair normally, which can cause distortion of the DNA helix, stalled replication, gaps, and misincorporation. These can lead to mutations, which can result in cancerous growths. 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 body tans when exposed to moderate (depending on skin type) levels of radiation and UVA in particular triggers the release of the brown pigment melanin from melanocytes; while UVB mostly triggers de novo production. This tan helps to block UV penetration and prevent damage to the vulnerable skin tissues deeper down.

Suntan lotion, often referred to as “sun block” or “sunscreen”, partly blocks UV and is widely available. Most of these products contain an SPF rating that describes the amount of protection given. This protection factor, however, applies only to UVB rays responsible for sunburn and not to UVA rays that penetrate more deeply into the skin and may also be responsible for causing cancer and wrinkles. Some sunscreen lotion now includes 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.

What to look for in sunscreen

  1. UVB protection: Padimate O, Homosalate, Octisalate (octyl salicylate), Octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate)
  2. UVA protection: Avobenzone
  3. UVA/UVB protection: Octocrylene, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, Mexoryl (ecamsule)
  4. Another means to block UV is sun protective clothing. This is clothing that has a “UPF rating” that describes the protection given against both UVA and UVB.

High intensities of UVB light are hazardous to the eyes, and exposure can cause welder’s flash (photokeratitis or arc eye) and may lead to cataracts, pterygium,[10][11] and pinguecula formation.

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.

Degradation of polymers, pigments and dyes

Many polymers used in consumer products are degraded by UV light, and need addition of UV stabilizers to inhibit attack. Products include thermoplastics, such as polypropylene and polyethylene as well as specialty fibers like aramids. UV absorption leads to chain degradation and loss of strength. In addition, many pigments and dyes absorb UV and change color, so paintings and textiles may need extra protection both from sunlight and fluorescent lamps.
[edit] Blockers and absorbers

Ultraviolet Light Absorbers (UVAs) are molecules used in organic materials (polymers, paints, etc.) to absorb UV light in order to reduce the degradation (photo-oxidation) of a material. A number of different UVAs exist with different absorption properties. UVAs can disappear over time, so monitoring of UVA levels in weathered materials is necessary.

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.)
[edit] Applications of UV


A bird appears on many Visa credit cards when held under a UV light source.

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.

Fluorescent lamps

Fluorescent lamps produce UV radiation by ionizing low-pressure mercury vapor. A phosphorescent coating on the inside of the tubes absorbs the UV and converts it to visible light.

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.