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Rainbow in the Room

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Barbara Z. Tharp, MS, and Judith Dresden, MS.

The Science of Light

Light that we can see is only a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In addition to visible radiation (light), the sun emits infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) radiation, x-rays, and gamma rays.

In this activity, students observed the following properties of light.

  • Visible light is composed of many different wavelengths of radiation. Electromagnetic radiation, including light, travels in waves, similar to the waves on the surface of a lake. The distance measured between the peaks, or crests, of two successive waves is known as the wavelength. The longest wavelengths correspond to television and radio signals (1-1,000 meters), while the shortest wavelengths correspond to gamma rays (0.000,000,000,000,01 meters).
  • We can see different wavelengths of light as the colors of the spectrum. Visible light consists of a mix of wavelengths that we detect as different colors. We can see these colors when white light (light as we usually see it) passes through a prism— or drops of water—and forms a rainbow. The components of visible light represent a small portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and ranges from the longer wavelength of infrared radiation and the shorter wavelength of ultraviolet radiation.


Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932


Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education