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Ultraviolet (UV) light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than soft X-rays. It is so named because the spectrum consists of electromagnetic waves with frequencies higher than those that humans identify as the color violet (purple).
UV light is typically found as part of the radiation received by the Earth from the Sun. Most humans are aware of the effects of UV through the painful condition of sunburn. The UV spectrum has many other effects, including both beneficial and damaging changes to human health.
Additional recommended knowledge
The discovery of UV radiation was intimately associated with the observation that silver salts darken when exposed to sunlight. In 1801 the German physicist Johann Wilhelm Ritter made the hallmark observation that invisible rays just beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum were especially effective at darkening silver chloride-soaked paper. He called them "de-oxidizing rays" to emphasize their chemical reactivity and to distinguish them from "heat rays" at the other end of the visible spectrum. The simpler term "chemical rays" was adopted shortly thereafter, and it remained popular throughout the 19th century. The terms chemical and heat rays were eventually dropped in favor of ultraviolet and infrared radiation, respectively.
Origin of term
The name means "beyond violet" (from Latin ultra, "beyond"), violet being the color of the shortest wavelengths of visible light. UV light has a shorter wavelength than that of violet light.
The part of the electromagnetic spectrum which ultraviolet light covers can be further subdivided in several different overlapping ways:
In photolithography, in laser technology, etc., the term deep ultraviolet or DUV refers to wavelengths below 300 nm. "Vacuum UV" is so named because it is absorbed strongly by air and is used in vacuums.
See 1 E-7 m for a list of objects of comparable sizes.
Ultraviolet is colloquially called black light, as it is invisible to the human eye. Some animals, including birds, reptiles, and insects such as bees, can see into the near ultraviolet. Many fruits, flowers, and seeds stand out more strongly from the background in ultraviolet wavelengths as compared to human color vision. Scorpions glow or take on a yellow to green color under UV illumination. Many birds have patterns in their plumage that are invisible at usual wavelengths but observable in ultraviolet, and the urine and other secretions of some animals, including dogs, cats, and human beings, is much easier to spot with ultraviolet.
Natural sources of UV
The Sun emits ultraviolet radiation in the UVA, UVB, and UVC bands, but because of absorption in the atmosphere's ozone layer, 99% of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth's surface is UVA. (Some of the UVB and UVC radiation is responsible for the generation of the ozone layer.)
Ordinary glass is partially transparent to UVA but is opaque to shorter wavelengths while Silica or quartz glass, depending on quality, can be transparent even to vacuum UV wavelengths. Ordinary window glass passes about 90% of the light above 350 nm, but blocks over 90% of the light below 300 nm.
The onset of vacuum UV, 200 nm, is defined by the fact that ordinary air is opaque below this wavelength. This opacity is due to the strong absorption of light of these wavelengths by oxygen in the air. Pure nitrogen (less than about 10 ppm oxygen) is transparent to wavelengths in the range of about 150–200 nm. This has wide practical significance now that semiconductor manufacturing processes are using wavelengths shorter than 200 nm. By working in oxygen-free gas, the equipment does not have to be built to withstand the pressure differences required to work in a vacuum. Some other scientific instruments, such as circular dichroism spectrometers, are also commonly nitrogen purged and operate in this spectral region.
Extreme UV is characterized by a transition in the physics of interaction with matter: wavelengths longer than about 30 nm interact mainly with the chemical valence electrons of matter, while wavelengths shorter than that interact mainly with inner shell electrons and nuclei. The long end of the EUV/XUV spectrum is set by a prominent He+ spectral line at 30.4nm. XUV is strongly absorbed by most known materials, but it is possible to synthesize multilayer optics that reflect up to about 50% of XUV radiation at normal incidence. This technology has been used to make telescopes for solar imaging; it was pioneered by the NIXT and MSSTA sounding rockets in the 1990s; (current examples are SOHO/EIT and TRACE) and for nanolithography (printing of traces and devices on microchips).
Human Health Related Effects of UV Radiation
A positive effect of UVB exposure is that it induces the production of vitamin D in the skin. It has been estimated that tens of thousands of premature deaths occur in the United States annually from a range of cancers due to vitamin D deficiency. Another effect of vitamin D deficiency is osteomalacia (the adult equivalent of rickets), which can result in bone pain, difficulty in weight bearing and sometimes fractures. Other studies show most people get adequate Vitamin D through food and incidental exposure.
Many countries have fortified certain foods with Vitamin D to prevent deficiency. Eating fortified foods or taking a dietary supplement pill is usually preferred to UVB exposure, due to the increased risk of skin cancer from UV radiation.
Ultraviolet radiation has other medical applications, in the treatment of skin conditions such as psoriasis and vitiligo. UVA radiation can be used in conjunction with psoralens (PUVA treatment). UVB radiation is rarely used in conjunction with psoralens. In cases of psoriasis and vitiligo, UV light with wavelength of 311 nm is most effective.
In humans, prolonged exposure to solar UV radiation may result in acute and chronic health effects on the skin, eye, and immune system.
UVC rays are the highest energy, most dangerous type of ultraviolet light. Little attention has been given to UVC rays in the past since they are filtered out by the atmosphere. However, their use in equipment such as pond sterilization units may pose an exposure risk, if the lamp is switched on outside of its enclosed pond sterilization unit.
UVA, UVB and UVC can all damage collagen fibers and thereby accelerate aging of the skin. Both UVA and UVB destroy vitamin A in skin which may cause further damage. In general, UVA is the least harmful, but can contribute to the aging of skin, and possibly even skin cancer. It penetrates deeply and does not cause sunburn. UVA is also capable of damaging DNA. UVA does not damage DNA directly like UVB and UVC, but it can generate highly reactive chemical intermediates, such as hydroxyl and oxygen radicals, which in turn can damage DNA. Because it does not cause reddening of the skin (erythema) it cannot be measured in the SPF testing. There is no good clinical measurement of the blocking of UVA radiation, but it is important that sunscreen block both UVA and UVB.
UVB light can cause skin cancer. The radiation excites DNA molecules in skin cells, causing covalent bonds to form between adjacent thymine bases, producing thymidine dimers. Thymidine dimers do not base pair normally, which can cause distortion of the DNA helix, stalled replication, gaps, and misincorporation. These can lead to mutations, which can result in cancerous growths. The mutagenicity of UV radiation can be easily observed in bacteria cultures. This cancer connection is one reason for concern about ozone depletion and the ozone hole. UVB causes some damage to collagen but at a very much slower rate than UVA.
As a defense against UV radiation, the body tans when exposed to moderate (depending on skin type) levels of radiation and UVA in particular triggers the release of the brown pigment melanin from melanocytes; while UVB mostly triggers de novo production. This tan helps to block UV penetration and prevent damage to the vulnerable skin tissues deeper down.
Suntan lotion, often referred to as "sun block" or "sunscreen", partly blocks UV and is widely available. Most of these products contain an SPF rating that describes the amount of protection given. This protection factor, however, applies only to UVB rays responsible for sunburn and not to UVA rays that penetrate more deeply into the skin and may also be responsible for causing cancer and wrinkles. Some sunscreen lotion now includes compounds such as titanium dioxide which helps protect against UVA rays. Other UVA blocking compounds found in sunscreen include zinc oxide and avobenzone. Cantaloupe extract, rich in the compound superoxide dismutase (SOD), can be bound with gliadin to form glisodin, an orally-effective protectant against UVB radiation. There are also naturally occurring compounds found in rainforest plants that have been known to protect the skin from UV radiation damage, such as the fern Phlebodium aureum.
Another means to block UV is sun protective clothing. This is clothing that has a "UPF rating" that describes the protection given against both UVA and UVB.
Protective eyewear is beneficial to those who are working with or those who might be exposed to ultraviolet radiation, particularly short wave UV. Given that light may reach the eye from the sides, full coverage eye protection is usually warranted if there is an increased risk of exposure, as in high altitude mountaineering. Mountaineers are exposed to higher than ordinary levels of UV radiation, both because there is less atmospheric filtering and because of reflection from snow and ice.
Ordinary, untreated eyeglasses give some protection. Most plastic lenses give more protection than glass lenses, because, as noted above, glass is transparent to UVA and the common acrylic plastic used for lenses is less so. Some plastic lens materials, such as polycarbonate, inherently block most UV. There are protective treatments available for eyeglass lenses that need it which will give better protection. But even a treatment that completely blocks UV will not protect the eye from light that arrives around the lens.
Degradation of polymers, pigments and dyes
Many polymers used in consumer products are degraded by UV light, and need addition of UV stabilizers to inhibit attack. Products include thermoplastics, such as polypropylene and polyethylene as well as speciality fibres like aramids. UV absorption leads to chain degradation and loss of strength. In addition, many pigments and dyes absorb UV and change colour, so paintings and textiles may need extra protection both from sunlight and fluorescent lamps.
Blockers and absorbers
Ultraviolet Light Absorbers (UVAs) are molecules used in organic materials (polymers, paints, etc.) to absorb UV light in order to reduce the degradation (photo-oxidation) of a material. A number of different UVAs exist with different absorption properties. UVAs can disappear over time, so monitoring of UVA levels in weathered materials is necessary.
In sunscreen, ingredients which absorb UVA/UVB rays, such as avobenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate, are known as absorbers. They are contrasted with physical "blockers" of UV radiation such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. (See sunscreen for a more complete list.)
Applications of UV
A black light is a lamp that emits long wave UV radiation and very little visible light. Fluorescent black lights are typically made in the same fashion as normal fluorescent lights except that only one phosphor is used and the normally clear glass envelope of the bulb is replaced by a deep bluish purple glass called Wood's glass.
To help thwart counterfeiters, sensitive documents (e.g. credit cards, driver's licenses, passports) may also include a UV watermark that can only be seen when viewed under a UV-emitting light. Passports issued by most countries usually contain UV sensitive inks and security threads. Visa stamps and stickers on passports of visitors contain large and detailed seals invisible to the naked eye under normal lights, but strongly visible under UV illumination. Passports issued by many nations have UV sensitive watermarks on all pages of the passport. Currencies of various countries' banknotes have an image, as well as many multicolored fibers, that are visible only under ultraviolet light.
The main mercury emission wavelength is in the UVC range. Unshielded exposure of the skin or eyes to mercury arc lamps that do not have a conversion phosphor is quite dangerous.
The light from a mercury lamp is predominantly at discrete wavelengths. Other practical UV sources with more continuous emission spectra include xenon arc lamps (commonly used as sunlight simulators), deuterium arc lamps, mercury-xenon arc lamps, metal-halide arc lamps, and tungsten-halogen incandescent lamps.
In astronomy, very hot objects preferentially emit UV radiation (see Wien's law). Because the ozone layer blocks many UV frequencies from reaching telescopes on the surface of the Earth, most UV observations are made from space. (See UV astronomy, space observatory.)
Ultraviolet traps are used to eliminate various small flying insects. They are attracted to the UV light, and are killed using an electric shock, or trapped once they come into contact with the device.
UV/VIS spectroscopy is widely used as a technique in chemistry, to analyze chemical structure, most notably conjugated systems. UV radiation is often used in visible spectrophotometry to determine the existence of fluorescence in a given sample.
Ultraviolet lamps are also used in analyzing minerals, gems, and in other detective work including authentication of various collectibles. Materials may look the same under visible light, but fluoresce to different degrees under ultraviolet light; or may fluoresce differently under short wave ultraviolet versus long wave ultraviolet.
UV fluorescent dyes are used in many applications (for example, biochemistry and forensics). The Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) is often used in genetics as a marker. Many substances, such as proteins, have significant light absorption bands in the ultraviolet that are of use and interest in biochemistry and related fields. UV-capable spectrophotometers are common in such laboratories.
Exposure to UVA light while the skin is hyper-photosensitive by taking psoralens is an effective treatment for psoriasis called PUVA. Due to psoralens potentially causing damage to the liver, PUVA may only be used a limited number of times over a patient's lifetime.
Exposure to UVB light, particularly the 310 nm narrowband UVB range, is an effective long-term treatment for many skin conditions like psoriasis, vitiligo, eczema, and many others. UVB phototherapy does not require additional medications or topical preparations for the therapeutic benefit; only the light exposure is needed. However, phototherapy can be effective when used in conjunction with certain topical treatments such as anthralin, coal tar, and Vitamin A and D derivatives, or systemic treatments such as methotrexate and soriatane.
Typical treatment regimes involve short exposure to UVB rays 3 to 5 times a week at a hospital or clinic, and for the best results, up to 30 or more sessions may be required.
Side effects may include itching and redness of the skin due to UVB exposure, and possibly sunburn, if patients do not minimize exposure to natural UV rays during treatment days.
Ultraviolet radiation is used for very fine resolution photolithography, a procedure where a chemical known as a photoresist is exposed to UV radiation which has passed through a mask. The light allows chemical reactions to take place in the photoresist, and after development (a step that either removes the exposed or unexposed photoresist), a geometric pattern which is determined by the mask remains on the sample. Further steps may then be taken to "etch" away parts of the sample with no photoresist remaining.
Checking electrical insulation
A new application of UV is to detect corona discharge (often simply called "corona") on electrical apparatus. Degradation of insulation of electrical apparatus or pollution causes corona, wherein a strong electric field ionizes the air and excites nitrogen molecules, causing the emission of ultraviolet radiation. The corona degrades the insulation level of the apparatus. Corona produces ozone and to a lesser extent nitrogen oxide which may subsequently react with water in the air to form nitrous acid and nitric acid vapour in the surrounding air.
Ultraviolet lamps are used to sterilize workspaces and tools used in biology laboratories and medical facilities. Commercially-available low pressure mercury-vapor lamps emit about 86% of their light at 254 nanometers (nm) which coincides very well with one of the two peaks of the germicidal effectiveness curve (i.e., effectiveness for UV absorption by DNA). One of these peaks is at about 265 nm and the other is at about 185 nm. Although 185 nm is better absorbed by DNA, the quartz glass used in commercially-available lamps, as well as environmental media such as water, are more opaque to 185 nm than 254 nm (C. von Sonntag et al., 1992). UV light at these germicidal wavelengths causes adjacent thymine molecules on DNA to dimerize, if enough of these defects accumulate on a microorganism's DNA its replication is inhibited, thereby rendering it harmless (even though the organism may not be killed outright). However, since microorganisms can be shielded from ultraviolet light in small cracks and other shaded areas, these lamps are used only as a supplement to other sterilization techniques.
Disinfecting drinking water
UV radiation can be an effective viricide and bactericide. Disinfection using UV radiation is more commonly used in wastewater treatment applications but is finding increased usage in drinking water treatment. A process named SODIS  has been extensively researched in Switzerland and has proven ideal to treat small quantities of water. Contaminated water is poured into transparent plastic bottles and exposed to full sunlight for six hours. The sunlight treats the contaminated water through two synergetic mechanisms: Radiation in the spectrum of UV-A (wavelength 320-400 nm) and increased water temperature. If the water temperatures rises above 50 °C, the disinfection process is three times faster. It used to be thought that UV disinfection was more effective for bacteria and viruses, which have more exposed genetic material, than for larger pathogens which have outer coatings or that form cyst states (e.g., Giardia) that shield their DNA from the UV light. However, it was recently discovered that ultraviolet radiation can be somewhat effective for treating the microorganism Cryptosporidium. The findings resulted in two US patents and the use of UV radiation as a viable method to treat drinking water. Giardia in turn has been shown to be very susceptible to UV-C when the tests were based on infectivity rather than excystation. It has been found that protists are able to survive high UV-C doses but are sterilized at low doses.
As consumer demand for fresh and "fresh like" food products increases, the demand for nonthermal methods of food processing is likewise on the rise. In addition, public awareness regarding the dangers of food poisoning is also raising demand for improved food processing methods. Ultraviolet radiation is used in several food processes to remove unwanted microorganisms. UV light can be used to pasteurize fruit juices by flowing the juice over a high intensity ultraviolet light source. The effectiveness of such a process depends on the UV absorbance of the juice (see Beer's law).
Ultraviolet detectors generally use either a solid-state device, such as one based on silicon carbide or aluminium nitride, or a gas-filled tube as the sensing element. UV detectors which are sensitive to UV light in any part of the spectrum respond to irradiation by sunlight and artificial light. A burning hydrogen flame, for instance, radiates strongly in the 185 to 260 nanometer range and only very weakly in the IR region, while a coal fire emits very weakly in the UV band yet very strongly at IR wavelengths; thus a fire detector which operates using both UV and IR detectors is more reliable than one with a UV detector alone. Virtually all fires emit some radiation in the UVB band, while the Sun's radiation at this band is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere. The result is that the UV detector is "solar blind", meaning it will not cause an alarm in response to radiation from the Sun, so it can easily be used both indoors and outdoors.
UV detectors are sensitive to most fires, including hydrocarbons, metals, sulfur, hydrogen, hydrazine, and ammonia. Arc welding, electrical arcs, lightning, X-rays used in nondestructive metal testing equipment (though this is highly unlikely), and radioactive materials can produce levels that will activate a UV detection system. The presence of UV-absorbing gases and vapors will attenuate the UV radiation from a fire, adversely affecting the ability of the detector to detect flames. Likewise, the presence of an oil mist in the air or an oil film on the detector window will have the same effect.
Curing of inks, adhesives, varnishes and coatings
Certain inks, coatings and adhesives are formulated with photoinitiators and resins. When exposed to the correct energy and irradiance in the required band of UV light, polymerization occurs, and so the adhesives harden or cure. Usually, this reaction is very quick, a matter of a few seconds. Applications include glass and plastic bonding, optical fiber coatings, the coating of flooring, UV Coating and paper finishes in offset printing, and dental fillings.
An industry has developed around the manufacture of UV lamps sourced for UV curing applictions. Fast processes such as flexo or offset printing require high intensity light focussed via reflectors onto a moving substrate and medium and high pressure Hg (mercury) or Fe (iron) based bulbs are used which can be energised with electric arc or microwaves. Lower power fluorescent lamps can be used for static applications and in some cases, small high pressure lamps can have light focussed and transmitted to the work area via liquid filled or fibre optic light guides.
Radtech is a trade association dedicated to the promotion of this technology.
Deterring substance abuse in public places
UV lights have been installed in some parts of the world in public restrooms, and on public transport, for the purpose of deterring substance abuse. The blue color of these lights, combined with the fluorescence of the skin, make it harder for intravenous drug users to find a vein. The efficacy of these lights for that purpose has been questioned, with some suggesting that drug users simply find a vein outside the public restroom and mark the spot with a marker for accessibility when inside the restroom. There is currently no published evidence supporting the idea of a deterrent effect.
Sun tanning describes a darkening of the skin (especially of fair-skinned individuals) in a natural physiological response stimulated by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunshine (or a sunbed). With excess exposure to the sun, a suntanned area can also develop sunburn.
Erasing EPROM modules
Some EPROM (electronically programmable read-only memory) modules are erased by exposure to UV radiation. These modules often have a transparent glass (quartz) window on the top of the chip that allows the UV radiation in. These have been largely superseded by EEPROM and flash memory chips in most devices.
Preparing low surface energy polymers
UV radiation is useful in preparing low surface energy polymers for adhesives. Polymers exposed to UV light will oxidize thus raising the surface energy of the polymer. Once the surface energy of the polymer has been raised, the bond between the adhesive and the polymer will not be smaller.
Reading completely illegible papyruses
Using multi-spectral imaging it is possible to read illegible papyruses, such as the burned papyruses of the Villa of the Papyri or of Oxyrhynchus. The technique involves taking pictures of the illegible papyruses using different filters in the infrared or ultraviolet range, finely tuned to capture certain wavelengths of light. Thus, the optimum spectral portion can be found for distinguishing ink from paper on the papyrus surface.
Evolution of early reproductive proteins and enzymes is attributed in modern models of evolutionary theory to ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light causes thymine base pairs next to each other in genetic sequences to bond together into thymine dimers, a disruption in the strand which reproductive enzymes cannot copy (see picture above). This leads to frameshifting during genetic replication and protein synthesis, usually killing the organism. As early prokaryotes began to approach the surface of the ancient oceans, before the protective ozone layer had formed, blocking out most wavelengths of UV light, they almost invariably died out. The few that survived had developed enzymes which verified the genetic material and broke up thymine dimer bonds, known as excision repair enzymes. Many enzymes and proteins involved in modern mitosis and meiosis are extremely similar to excision repair enzymes, and are believed to be evolved modifications of the enzymes originally used to overcome UV light.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Ultraviolet". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.