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5 Ways to Make Electromagnetic Spectrum a More Approachable Topic for Students

Usama Attiq
High School
Teaching with Labster

Introduction: Electromagnetic Spectrum

Light plays an important role by carrying information in different ways. For instance, mobile phones use light waves to send and receive messages and calls. Recently, wireless routers have been used to send different pictures from the internet to your desktop. The car radios also used light to play music in the car. Mainly, light shows different behaviors, such as reflection, refraction, and diffraction. Photon is the fundamental particle of light that carries electromagnetic forces.

Reflection occurs when a light wave strikes the boundary that does not absorb the energy and radiates the light in another direction. Refraction is referred to as when light enters from one medium to another medium, then it bends from its original direction. Diffraction can occur when light is passed from an obstacle and spread around it.

Wave is the movement of disturbance from one place to another place in a well-organized way. Waves have two main points; crest and trough. The crest is the highest point of the wave, while the trough is the lowest point of the wave.

Electromagnetic waves are those waves that are produced by the vibrations between the magnetic field and the electric field. The magnetic and electric fields are perpendicular to each other and produce electromagnetic waves. These waves have a constant velocity and do not deflect by an electric field or magnetic field. Electromagnetic waves can travel from solid, air, and vacuum mediums. They are transverse waves, meaning they can be measured by wavelength and amplitude.

The electromagnetic spectrum consists of several aspects students may find difficult to learn. At Labster, we compiled all the complexities students experience while studying the electromagnetic spectrum. Then, we provide the methods to make this topic easier for students to understand. At the end of the topic, we will convince you why a virtual lab simulation is effective for students and teachers.  

magnetic field

Figure: An image of electric and magnetic fields from Labster Theory. 

Why the electromagnetic spectrum can be tricky to learn

There are three main reasons that make the electromagnetic spectrum a difficult topic for students to learn.

1. It feels abstract

The electromagnetic spectrum is a topic that studies different kinds of waves, photons, crests, troughs, frequencies, and wavelengths. These are abstract concepts because it is impossible to see the waves with the naked eye. The reason is that the waves are very small in size. Photon is a particle of a smaller wave than a complete wave. So, students may find difficulties while studying these abstract concepts.

2. It’s complicated

There are several terms that students need to remember for the electromagnetic spectrum. Some terms have the same meaning that may be confusing and complicated for students to understand. For instance, energy, wavelength, and frequency are the terms used for electromagnetic waves. So, students may get confused when they read frequency words in one paragraph and wavelength in another paragraph.

3. It’s content-heavy

The electromagnetic spectrum is a complex topic in which you need to learn about the principle, types, and several basic definitions, applications, and graphs of electromagnetic waves. Many students do not like this topic due to how content-heavy it is. They find this topic boring and time-consuming.

5 ways to make electromagnetic spectrum a more approachable topic to understand

As we are familiar with the reasons that make the electromagnetic spectrum a complex topic to understand, five waves make this topic easier and simpler for students.

1. Talk about the people behind that science

Heinrich Hertz:

Heinrich Hertz was a German physicist who introduced the electromagnetic spectrum by using James Clerk Maxwell’s equation. In his honor, the frequency unit is called “Hertz”. In 1886, he was working on a pair of Riess spirals and noticed that these coils produced sparks in other coils. The spark gap was difficult to see in this experiment, and he needed a darker room to investigate it properly. After this, he did an experiment by using a dipole antenna. He used two collinear wires, zinc spheres, and a radiator. He was successfully able to calculate the speed of the radio waves that were produced in the experiment.

2. Basic knowledge of the electromagnetic spectrum

Electromagnetic waves are transverse waves that can move from the vacuum. The speed of electromagnetic waves is the same as light when they travel from the vacuum. The speed is 300,000,000 m/s. Most of the wavelengths cannot reach from space to the surface of the earth. Some waves, such as ultraviolet waves, visible light, and radio waves, can reach sea level. At the top of the mountains, astronomers can observe the presence of infrared waves by using telescopes.

In the electromagnetic spectrum, photons, frequencies, and wavelengths that have frequencies less than 1 hertz are involved. You can use spectroscopy to learn the electromagnetic waves and their interaction with matter.

Electromagnetic waves are formed by electric and magnetic fields and have wavelength, frequency, and amplitude properties.

  • Wavelength: Wavelength is the distance of a wave from one peak to another peak.

  • Frequency: Frequency is the number of waves passing from a specific point in one second. The unit of frequency is Hertz (Hz).

  • Amplitude: Amplitude is the distance of the wave from the center line to the bottom of the trough or top of the crest.

According to the frequencies, electromagnetic waves are divided into many types. This classification is known as the electromagnetic spectrum. It includes radio waves, infrared waves, gamma waves, microwaves, x-ray, ultraviolet, and visible waves. The different types of electromagnetic waves have different characteristics. The significance of electromagnetic waves is that they can be classified according to their frequencies and wavelengths. In all kinds of electromagnetic waves, gamma waves have the shortest wavelength and the largest frequency. Radio waves have the largest wavelength and the shortest frequency.

electromagnetic spectrum

Figure: An image represents the structures of different types of wavelengths from the Labster virtual laboratory of electromagnetic spectrum

3. Relate to the real world

Students may find learning about the electromagnetic spectrum more interesting when teachers give examples of the real world. It helps to enhance their knowledge about the electromagnetic spectrum. There are seven types of electromagnetic wavelength.

  1. Radio wave: The radio can capture the radio waves that are transmitted from a radio station. These waves are used in televisions and mobile phones.  The stars and gas in space can also emit radio waves.

  2. Infrared wave: Infrared waves are the type of electromagnetic waves that are used in night vision goggles. Night vision goggles can capture the infrared waves emitted from the skin.

  3. Gamma waves: Grama waves are mainly used in the medical field. These waves are used to see the inside of the human body to check for different diseases.

  4. Microwave: This is the type of electromagnetic wave that is used in microwaves. A microwave is an effective device for cooking purposes. Additionally, astronomers use microwaves to determine the nearby galaxies in space.  

  5. X-ray: It is a type of electromagnetic wave that is used for medical purposes. For example, it is used to imagine your teeth and bones. X-rays are also helpful in checking bags at airports for security purposes.

  6. Ultraviolet: Ultraviolet waves can be emitted from the hot materials present in space. Sun is the main source that produces ultraviolet waves and makes skin tan.

  7. Visible light: Visible light can be seen with our eyes. For example, bulbs and fireflies emit visible light.

4. Seeing is believing

When a topic is complex, like the electromagnetic spectrum, it is important to use color diagrams to explain it. Seeing the color image can help to memorize the topic more appropriately. The visual representations of the electromagnetic spectrum can be effective in delivering the concepts like photons, wavelengths, and electromagnetic spectrum properly.

The color image presented below shows the visible wave, radio waves, and x-rays. It helps to remember that visible light is emitted from a bulb, radio-captured radio waves, and x-ray shows bone images. Therefore, students can learn the electromagnetic spectrum effectively using these color diagrams. 

Electromagnetic Spectrum virtual lab 2

Figure: An image of the electromagnetic spectrum from Labster virtual laboratory of electromagnetic spectrum

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

A virtual lab simulation is an advanced way to learn about the electromagnetic spectrum. At Labster, we provide 3D laboratory simulations containing gamification elements like storytelling and a scoring system.

Labster's virtual simulation about the electromagnetic spectrum explains the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, the classification of the electromagnetic spectrum, the relationship between the frequency, speed of waves, and wavelength, and how cells are damaged due to electromagnetic radiation. So, this simulation can be helpful for teachers to convey the electromagnetic spectrum to the students.   

electromagnetic spectrum simulation GIF

Check out Labster electromagnetic spectrum simulation here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using a virtual lab with your students.

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