We all know the importance of wearing sunscreen, or wearing sun glasses when it is bright outside, or even wearing long-sleeved clothing when we’re outside to protect us from the sun, but why is it so important?
Our craft activity today will help us understand more about the main component of sunlight- ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light is a type of light that we can’t see, but we can most definitely feel its effects- almost immediately if we have a sunburn, but also over a long period of time.
Before we build our activity, let’s talk briefly about the sun and the light it produces. The sun produces five different types of light: Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet-A, Ultraviolet-B, and Ultraviolet-C. Let’s briefly explore these types of light:
Infrared light is the light that makes our skin feel warm. Sometimes, restaurants, department stores, and other public venues will utilize infrared heaters in the wintertime to provide heat and warmth for their customers. Did you know that some animals such as snakes can detect infrared light?
Visible Light is the light that we can see with our eyes. This type of light is made up of all colors of light that you can see in a rainbow.
Ultraviolet-A (or UVA) is a type of light that is potentially harmful to our eyes and skin. UVA, like Ultraviolet-B (UVB), can also cause photo-aging or aging by light. Have you ever seen a faded sign on the side of a building? That sign has experienced photo-aging.
Ultraviolet-B (UVB) is simultaneously beneficial and very harmful to living creatures. While UVB is necessary for our bodies to manufacture Vitamin D, it is also the leading cause of sunburn, skin cancer, and cataracts (thick, milky growths on the eyes that block vision).
Ultraviolet-C (UVC) is the most dangerous form of ultraviolet light and is even more intense than UVA or UVB. Fortunately for us, UVC is completely absorbed by the ozone in Earth’s atmosphere and does not reach the surface of the Earth.
As you can see, while we get warmth from the sun as well as the light needed to see the beauty of nature, we also need to be mindful of its potentially harmful effects. What are the best ways to protect ourselves from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light? Using sunscreen, wearing sunglasses, or wearing light-colored, long-sleeved clothes will all help us stay safe in the sun.
A fun way to commemorate your trip to the Birmingham Zoo today is through making your very own Bear Claw necklace using some very special beads. Some of the beads you see on the table before you are white…for now! These are UV Beads. The UV beads contain a special material called photochromic dye (The word photo means “light” and chromic means “color”). The molecules of this dye, that is to say the atomic-level building blocks of the dye, will change color when they are exposed to any ultraviolet light source.
When UV light comes in contact with the dye, a molecular bond will break, allowing the molecule to twist into a new shape. When this happens, the newly twisted molecule will absorb light differently and will make the bead change color! Don’t worry, once the source of UV light (either the sun or a UV flashlight) is removed, the bond will reform and the bead will return to its normal color.