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.

Sources of Light

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Sources of light differ in how they provide energy to the charged particles, such as electrons, whose motion creates the light. If the energy comes from heat, then the source is called incandescent. If the energy comes from another source, such as chemical or electric energy, the source is called luminescent (see Luminescence).

A. Incandescence

In an incandescent light source, hot atoms collide with one another. These collisions transfer energy to some electrons, boosting them into higher energy levels. As the electrons release this energy, they emit photons. Some collisions are weak and some are strong, so the electrons are excited to different energy levels and photons of different energies are emitted. Candle light is incandescent and results from the excited atoms of soot in the hot flame. Light from an incandescent light bulb comes from excited atoms in a thin wire called a filament that is heated by passing an electric current through it.

The Sun is an incandescent light source, and its heat comes from nuclear reactions deep below its surface. As the nuclei of atoms interact and combine in a process called nuclear fusion, they release huge amounts of energy. This energy passes from atom to atom until it reaches the surface of the Sun, where the temperature is about 6000°C (11,000°F). Different stars emit incandescent light of different frequencies—and therefore color—depending on their mass and their age.

All thermal, or heat, sources have a broad spectrum, which means they emit photons with a wide range of energies. The color of incandescent sources is related to their temperature, with hotter sources having more blue in their spectra, or ranges of photon energies, and cooler sources more red. About 75 percent of the radiation from an incandescent light bulb is infrared. Scientists learn about the properties of real incandescent light sources by comparing them to a theoretical incandescent light source called a black body. A black body is an ideal incandescent light source, with an emission spectrum that does not depend on what material the light comes from, but only its temperature.

B. Luminescence

C. Synchrotron Radiation

D. Lasers