What do x-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet light all have in common? They are all part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum is the range on which all types of electromagnetic radiation fit. Unless you’re a physicist, this might not hold a lot of meaning for you. But you might be surprised electromagnetic radiation is all around us. Regular, every day devices like cell phones and computers all emit this kind of radiation. What are the implications of this? They might be more far-reaching than you’d think.
First, what exactly is electromagnetic radiation? In simplest terms, it’s a form of energy. It might be easiest to picture imagine two oscillating waves moving back and forth across an axis. The waves move along the axis, dipping back and forth in direct relation and proportion to the other. One wave is electric energy; the other, is magnetic energy. That’s what electromagnetic radiation is a mixture of electric and magnetic energy. How is it created?
Electromagnetic radiation is created by moving charges. More specifically, it’s created when charged particles are accelerated by forces acting on them. For example a cell phone creates electromagnetic energy. This happens like so: a transmitter in a cell phone turns your voice into a wave. Waves are measured in frequency, which is the number of times the wave oscillates back and forth per second. Hold onto that idea of frequency; it’s coming up again soon. That wave that was just created by the transmitter is electromagnetic radiation. The radiation is then sent to phone’s antenna and transmitted out as a signal. A cell phone tower has a receiver that accepts these transmitted waves, completing phone call while creating radiation.
All electromagnetic radiation falls into either two categories: non-ionizing and ionizing. Remember frequency? Radiation with relatively low frequencies fall into the non-ionizing category and this includes devices like laptops, cell phones, transmitting and receiving towers, as well as microwaves. This radiation can be dangerous; the kind of radiation where too much exposure can have serious negative neurological, biological, and reproductive effects. X-rays and other higher frequency radiation fall into the category of ionizing radiation, which is why the dentist puts a lead apron over you before taking x-rays of your teeth. Lead blocks ionizing radiation, and prevents the dangerous effects of ionizing radiation. Another example is wearing UV rated sunglasses and suntan lotion to block ultraviolet light and gamma rays to protect ourselves from the sun.
There continues to be some debate about the potential dangers, and side effects, of non-ionizing radiation. This is why you might have been cautioned to hold your cell phone away from your head and to keep your laptop off of your lap. There has been a mix of both non-conclusive and conclusive determinations about how electromagnetic, non-ionizing, radiation affects the body. There are some retailers that already sell radiation meters and radiation blocking shields for the face and body. In the future, perhaps these will become common workplace safety items. For now though, the best thing to do is take precautions and become educated on the facts of electromagnetic radiation.