Light and Plants
Light is just one type of a spectrum of different radiations
The electromagnetic spectrum extends from low frequencies used for modern radio to gamma radiation at the short-wavelength end, covering wavelengths from thousands of kilometers down to a fraction of the size of an atom. The long wavelength limit is the size of the universe itself, while it is thought that the short wavelength limit is in the vicinity of the Planck length, although in principle the spectrum is infinite and continuous.
EM waves are typically described by any of the following three physical properties: the frequency f, wavelength λ, or photon energy E. Frequencies range from 2.4×1023 Hz (1 GeV gamma rays) down to the local plasma frequency of the ionized interstellar medium (~1 kHz). Wavelength is inversely proportional to the wave frequency, so gamma rays have very short wavelengths that are fractions of the size of atoms, whereas wavelengths can be as long as the universe. Photon energy is directly proportional to the wave frequency, so gamma rays have the highest energy (around a billion electron volts) and radio waves have very low energy. These relations are illustrated by the following equations:
c = 299,792,458 m/s is the speed of light in vacuum and
h = 6.62606896(33)×10−34 J s = 4.13566733(10)×10−15 eV s is Planck's constant.
Whenever electromagnetic waves exist in a medium with matter, their wavelength is decreased. Wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation, no matter what medium they are traveling through, are usually quoted in terms of the vacuum wavelength, although this is not always explicitly stated.
Generally, EM radiation is classified by wavelength into radio wave, microwave, infrared, the visible region we perceive as light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma rays. The behavior of EM radiation depends on its wavelength. When EM radiation interacts with single atoms and molecules, its behavior also depends on the amount of energy per quantum (photon) it carries.
Spectroscopy can detect a much wider region of the EM spectrum than the visible range of 400 nm to 700 nm. A common laboratory spectroscope can detect wavelengths from 2 nm to 2500 nm. Detailed information about the physical properties of objects, gases, or even stars can be obtained from this type of device. Spectroscopes are widely used in astrophysics. For example, many hydrogen atoms emit a radio wave photon which has a wavelength of 21.12 cm. Also, frequencies of 30 Hz and below can be produced by and are important in the study of certain stellar nebulae and frequencies as high as 2.9×1027 Hz have been detected from astrophysical sources.
Radio waves generally are utilized by antennas of appropriate size (according to the principle of resonance), with wavelengths ranging from hundreds of meters to about one millimeter. They are used for transmission of data, via modulation. Television, mobile phones, wireless networking and amateur radio all use radio waves. The use of the radio spectrum is regulated by many governments through frequency allocation.
Radio waves can be made to carry information by varying a combination of the amplitude, frequency and phase of the wave within a frequency band. When EM radiation impinges upon a conductor, it couples to the conductor, travels along it, and induces an electric current on the surface of that conductor by exciting the electrons of the conducting material. This effect is used in antennas. EM radiation may also cause certain molecules to absorb energy and thus to heat up, causing thermal effects and sometimes burns. This is exploited in microwave ovens.
The super high frequency (SHF) and extremely high frequency (EHF) of microwaves come next up the frequency scale. Microwaves are waves which are typically short enough to employ tubular metal waveguides of reasonable diameter. Microwave energy is produced with klystron and magnetron tubes, and with solid state diodes such as Gunn and IMPATT devices. Microwaves are absorbed by molecules that have a dipole moment in liquids. In a microwave oven, this effect is used to heat food. Low-intensity microwave radiation is used in Wi-Fi, although this is at intensity levels unable to cause thermal heating.
Volumetric heating, as used by microwaves, transfer energy through the material electromagnetically, not as a thermal heat flux. The benefit of this is a more uniform heating and reduced heating time; microwaves can heat material in less than 1% of the time of conventional heating methods.
When active, the average microwave oven is powerful enough to cause interference at close range with poorly shielded electromagnetic fields such as those found in mobile medical devices and cheap consumer electronics.
Terahertz radiation is a region of the spectrum between far infrared and microwaves. Until recently, the range was rarely studied and few sources existed for microwave energy at the high end of the band, but applications such as imaging and communications are now appearing. Scientists are also looking to apply terahertz technology in the armed forces, where high frequency waves might be directed at enemy troops to incapacitate their electronic equipment.
The infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum covers the range from roughly 300 GHz (1 mm) to 400 THz (750 nm). It can be divided into three parts:
Far-infrared, from 300 GHz (1 mm) to 30 THz (10 μm). The lower part of this range may also be called microwaves. This radiation is typically absorbed by so-called rotational modes in gas-phase molecules, by molecular motions in liquids, and by phonons in solids. The water in the Earth's atmosphere absorbs so strongly in this range that it renders the atmosphere effectively opaque. However, there are certain wavelength ranges within the opaque range which allow partial transmission, and can be used for astronomy. The wavelength range from approximately 200 μm up to a few mm is often referred to as sub-millimetre in astronomy, reserving far infrared for wavelengths below 200 μm.
Mid-infrared, from 30 to 120 THz (10 to 2.5 μm). Hot objects can radiate strongly in this range. It is absorbed by molecular vibrations, where the different atoms in a molecule vibrate around their equilibrium positions. This range is sometimes called the fingerprint region since the mid-infrared absorption spectrum of a compound is very specific for that compound.
Near-infrared, from 120 to 400 THz (2,500 to 750 nm). Physical processes that are relevant for this range are similar to those for visible light.
Visible radiation - what we can see
Above infrared in frequency comes visible light. This is the range in which the sun and stars similar to it emit most of their radiation. It is probably not a coincidence that the human eye is sensitive to the wavelengths that the sun emits most strongly. Visible light (and near-infrared light) is typically absorbed and emitted by electrons in molecules and atoms that move from one energy level to another. The light we see with our eyes is really a very small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. A rainbow shows the optical (visible) part of the electromagnetic spectrum; infrared (if you could see it) would be located just beyond the red side of the rainbow with ultraviolet appearing just beyond the violet end.
Electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength between 380 nm and 760 nm (790–400 terahertz) is detected by the human eye and perceived as visible light. Other wavelengths, especially near infrared (longer than 760 nm) and ultraviolet (shorter than 380 nm) are also sometimes referred to as light, especially when the visibility to humans is not relevant.
If radiation having a frequency in the visible region of the EM spectrum reflects off an object, say, a bowl of fruit, and then strikes our eyes, this results in our visual perception of the scene. Our brain's visual system processes the multitude of reflected frequencies into different shades and hues, and through this not-entirely-understood psychophysical phenomenon, most people perceive a bowl of fruit.
At most wavelengths, however, the information carried by electromagnetic radiation is not directly detected by human senses. Natural sources produce EM radiation across the spectrum, and our technology can also manipulate a broad range of wavelengths. Optical fiber transmits light which, although not suitable for direct viewing, can carry data that can be translated into sound or an image. The coding used in such data is similar to that used with radio waves.
Next in frequency comes ultraviolet (UV). This is radiation whose wavelength is shorter than the violet end of the visible spectrum, and longer than that of an X-ray.
Being very energetic, UV can break chemical bonds, making molecules unusually reactive or ionizing them, in general changing their mutual behavior. Sunburn, for example, is caused by the disruptive effects of UV radiation on skin cells, which is the main cause of skin cancer, if the radiation irreparably damages the complex DNA molecules in the cells. The Sun emits a large amount of UV radiation, which could quickly turn Earth into a barren desert. However, most of it is absorbed by the atmosphere's ozone layer before reaching the surface.
After UV come X-rays, which are also ionizing, but due to their higher energies they can also interact with matter by means of the Compton Effect. Hard X-rays have shorter wavelengths than soft X-rays. As they can pass through most substances, X-rays can be used to 'see through' objects, most notably diagnostic X-ray images in medicine, as well as for high-energy physics and astronomy. Neutron stars and accretion disks around black holes emit X-rays, which enable us to study them. X-rays are given off by stars and are strongly emitted by some types of nebulae.
After hard X-rays come gamma rays, which were discovered by Paul Villard in 1900. These are the most energetic photons, having no defined lower limit to their wavelength. They are useful to astronomers in the study of high energy objects or regions, and find a use with physicists thanks to their penetrative ability and their production from radioisotopes. Gamma rays are also used for the irradiation of food and seed for sterilization, and in medicine they are used in radiation cancer therapy and some kinds of diagnostic imaging such as PET scans. The wavelength of gamma rays can be measured with high accuracy by means of Compton scattering.
Note that there are no precisely defined boundaries between the bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radiation of some types have a mixture of the properties of those in two regions of the spectrum. For example, red light resembles infrared radiation in that it can resonate some chemical bonds.
Types of organisms which require light to life
An autotroph is an organism that produces complex organic compounds (such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins) from simple inorganic molecules using energy from light or inorganic chemical reactions. They are the producers in a food chain, such as plants on land or algae in water. They are able to make their own food and can fix carbon. Therefore, they do not utilize organic compounds as an energy source or a carbon source. Autotrophs can reduce carbon dioxide to make organic compounds. The reduction of carbon dioxide, a low-energy compound, creates a store of chemical energy. Most autotrophs use water as the reducing agent, but some can use other hydrogen compounds such as hydrogen sulfide.
Autotrophs can be phototrophs or lithotrophs. Phototrophs use light as an energy source, while lithotrophs oxidize inorganic compounds, such as hydrogen sulphide, elemental sulphur, ammonium and ferrous iron. Phototrophs and lithotrophs use a portion of the ATP produced during photosynthesis or the oxidation of inorganic compounds to reduce NADP to NADPH in order to form organic compounds.
Heterotrophs function as consumers in food chains: they obtain organic carbon by eating other heterotrophs or autotrophs. They break down complex organic compounds that are produced by autotrophs.
All animals are heterotrophic, as well as fungi and many bacteria. Some animals, such as corals, form symbiotic relationships with autotrophs and obtain organic carbon in this way. Furthermore, some parasitic plants have also turned fully or partially heterotrophic, while so-called carnivorous plants consume animals to augment their nitrogen supply while remaining autotrophic.
Biologists distinguish two types of heterotroph:
Photoheterotroph — obtains energy from light, but needs carbon in an organic form for growth. These are mostly certain kinds of bacteria. (Plants are photoautotrophs — not heterotrophs at all.)
Photoheterotroph — needs an organic source of carbon for both energy source and growth. All animals and fungi are chemoheterotrophs