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Light is a form of energy

Light is energy - some that humans can see (visible light) and some that humans cannot see but detect in other ways.

student thinking

Does light energy transfer into heat energy?
Put two items (paper, cloth, cup, etc.) one that is white, one that is black, in the sunlight. After a few minutes, either feel both items or use a thermometer to measure the temperature of each item. What do you notice? Black objects absorb most of the light waves and their energy, while white objects reflect most of the light waves and their energy.

Teacher information

Infrared light is often associated with heat. One reason is that warm objects like people's bodies or car engines emit infrared light that can be captured by special cameras. We cannot see infrared light without technology. To find out more about infrared light (and see some infrared images) check out this NASA website.

student thinking

Discuss: Why do we need to use sunscreen?
Sunlight has wavelengths that fall in the ultraviolet range (shorter wavelengths with higher energy than the violet visible light wavelengths). These wavelengths of energy can be damaging to human skin.

student thinking

Fading from light

  • Newspaper
  • Construction paper
  • Paper and colored markers
  • Sample collection items, e.g. trading cards, digital or other photographs, comic books, etc.

Cover one section of the item with a piece of cardboard and put it in a lighted spot. Put items in several areas: under a lamp, (with different kinds of bulbs), near a window, somewhere in the room but not near a window, outside in the sun, outside in the shade, etc,

Describe any effects after one day, one week, one month.

How does light energy change these things?

Check this SMM conservation webpage.

student thinking

Visible light is made of many colors
Discuss. What color is sunlight? Use a prism to bend sunlight or use the photo below. What causes rainbows?
Water droplets bend the sunlight much like a prism.

using a prism to make a rainbow

Students will continue to learn about types of light energy at the museum by looking for evidence of infrared energy.
At the Museum Activity 2 - The Wavelengths of Light PDF


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