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4: Overview
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UV Images

Tonic water (which contains quinine) fluoresces when exposed to ultraviolet light from a black light.

Ultraviolet light is not visible to the human eye, but we can sometimes see the effects of ultraviolet radiation. You've probably seen black lights at your local science museum, or even as part of a Halloween display. Black lights produce a purple glow (visible light) but they also emit invisible ultraviolet light. This black light can cause some materials or substances to glow. Known as fluorescent dyes, they glow in response to ultraviolet radiation.

In the images below you can see fluorescent dyes glowing as they are exposed to black light. Fluorescent dyes convert energy in the radiation into visible light. Different fluorescent dyes produce different fluorescent colors. Unlike normal colors, fluorescent colors absorb radiation and then re-emit it in the visible spectrum. This makes fluorescent colors look much brighter than normal colors.

Normal room light Ultraviolet light
A $20 bill under normal room light illumination. (Click to see a larger image.)
A $20 dollar bill has fluorescent strips that fluoresce when illuminated by the ultraviolet light.(Click to see a larger image.)
Normal room light Ultraviolet light
A British 20 pound note under normal, non-UV illumination.(Click to see a larger image.)
Special dyes in the note fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light. (Click to see a larger image.)

Related to chapter 4 in the print guide.
Related Materials

For an overview of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, see the Electromagnetic Spectrum Chart. For a more detailed look, see the EM Spectrum Cards.

Glossary Terms

Click for the definitions of the following words that are used on this page: (Definitions appear in a pop-up window.)

ultraviolet radiation

View the full, printable version of the glossary.

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