Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.

Nature of Light


B. Light Electromagnetic Waves

The waves that accompany light are made up of oscillating, or vibrating, electric and magnetic fields, which are force fields that surround charged particles and influence other charged particles in their vicinity. These electric and magnetic fields change strength and direction at right angles, or perpendicularly, to each other in a plane (vertically and horizontally for instance). The electromagnetic wave formed by these fields travels in a direction perpendicular to the field’s strength (coming out of the plane). The relationship between the fields and the wave formed can be understood by imagining a wave in a taut rope. Grasping the rope and moving it up and down simulates the action of a moving charge upon the electric field. It creates a wave that travels along the rope in a direction that is perpendicular to the initial up and down movement.

Because electromagnetic waves are transverse—that is, the vibration that creates them is perpendicular to the direction in which they travel, they are similar to waves on a rope or waves traveling on the surface of water. Unlike these waves, however, which require a rope or water, light does not need a medium, or substance, through which to travel. Light from the Sun and distant stars reaches Earth by traveling through the vacuum of space.

The waves associated with natural sources of light are irregular, like the water waves in a busy harbor. Scientists think of such waves as being made up of many smooth waves, where the motion is regular and the wave stretches out indefinitely with regularly spaced peaks and valleys. Such regular waves are called monochromatic because they correspond to a single color of light.