Electromagnetic Radiation: Characteristics and Properties

Electromagnetic Radiation: Characteristics and Properties

Understanding the characteristics and properties of electromagnetic radiation can help in understanding further what exactly it is, as well as in appreciating its different forms: radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-radiation or x-rays, and gamma rays.

The Characteristics and Properties of Electromagnetic Radiation

Description and Definition: Classical Physics vs. Quantum Mechanics

• Classical physics describes EM radiation as energy transmitted at the speed of light or about 186,000 miles per second through oscillating electric and magnetic fields or electromagnetic waves.

• However, quantum mechanics describe them as a stream and wave or flow of mass-less particles of the electromagnetic field that propagate through space or material objects while carrying radiant energy.

Properties of Electromagnetic Radiation According to Wave-Particle Duality

Scientists have observed that different forms of EM radiation behave like waves but also act as a stream of particles. Hence, EM radiation seems to have dual properties. The following are the properties of electromagnetic radiation based on the concept of wave-particle duality:

• Remember that quantum mechanics describes EM radiation as a stream of photons. These elementary particles travel through space or a material medium in a wave-like pattern at the speed of light.

• Every form of EM radiation, regardless of its wavelengths and frequencies, travels at the same speed of about 300,000 kilometers or 186,000 miles per second. This constant is also known as the speed of light.

• They also share the same wave-like properties. They oscillate in a periodic fashion and display a characteristic amplitude, wavelength, and frequency that define their direction, energy, and intensity.

• Of course, because EM radiation is a stream of photons, these photons behave like a wave of energy that sometimes behave like particles as well. Also, because these photons are elementary particles, they do not have a substructure. They also have energy and movement, but they do not have mass or electrical charge.

EM Spectrum: Facts About Wavelengths, Frequencies, and Energy

The electromagnetic spectrum represents the range of frequencies of EM radiation and their respective wavelengths and photon energy. The spectrum includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-radiation or x-rays, and gamma rays, as well as their respective subtypes.

Different forms of EM radiation are essentially categorized based on their wavelengths, frequencies, and photon energy. In addition, these three also define the different specific properties and characteristics of these forms.

Within the spectrum, the longer the wavelength, the lower the frequencies. Furthermore, the amount of energy carried by a photon is directly proportional to its electromagnetic frequency and inversely proportional to its wavelength.

For example, radio waves and microwaves have longer wavelengths, lower frequencies, and low photon energy than infrared radiation and visible light. Ultraviolet or UV radiation, x-radiation or x-rays, and gamma rays have higher energy, higher frequencies, and shorter wavelengths. Fundamentally, because EM radiation is a stream of photons, the photons with the highest energy correspond to the shortest wavelengths.

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