Black light (also Wood's light) is the common name for a lamp emitting electromagnetic radiation that is almost exclusively in the soft near ultraviolet range, and very little visible light. In many areas this type of lighting is more commonly referred to as simply "UV light". The black light was invented by William H. Byler.
Fluorescent black lights are typically made in the same fashion as normal fluorescent lights except that only one phosphor is used and the normally clear glass envelope of the bulb may be replaced by a deep-bluish-purple glass called Wood's glass, a nickel-oxide–doped glass, which blocks almost all visible light above 400 nanometers. The color of such lamps is often referred to in the trade as blacklight blue" or "BLB." This is to distinguish these lamps from "bug zapper" blacklight ("BL") lamps that don't have the blue Wood's glass.
The phosphor typically used for a near 368 to 371 nanometer emission peak is either europium-doped strontium fluoroborate (SrB4O7F:Eu2+) or europium-doped strontium borate (SrB4O7:Eu2+) while the phosphor used to produce a peak around 350 to 353 nanometers is lead-doped barium silicate (BaSi2O5:Pb+). "Blacklight Blue" lamps peak at 365 nm.
A black light may also be formed by simply using Wood's glass instead of clear glass as the envelope for a common incandescent bulb. This was the method used to create the very first black light sources. Though it remains a cheaper alternative to the fluorescent method, it is exceptionally inefficient at producing UV light (a mere few lumens per watt) owing to the black body nature of the incandescent light source. Incandescent UV bulbs, due to their inefficiency, may also become dangerously hot during use. More rarely still, high power (hundreds of watts) mercury vapor black lights can be found which use a UV emitting phosphor and an envelope of Wood's glass. These lamps are used mainly for theatrical and concert displays and also become very hot during normal use.
Some UV fluorescent bulbs specifically designed to attract insects for use in bug zappers use the same near-UV emitting phosphor as normal blacklights, but use plain glass instead of the more expensive Wood's glass. Plain glass blocks less of the visible mercury emission spectrum, making them appear light blue to the naked eye. These lamps are referred to as "blacklight" or "BL" in most lighting catalogs.
Ultraviolet light can be also generated by some light-emitting diodes.
While "black lights" do produce light in the UV range, their spectrum is confined to the longwave UVA region. UVA is considered the safest of the three spectrums of UV light. It is the higher energy (shortwave) light in the UVB and UVC range that is responsible for the DNA damage that leads to skin cancer. UVA light is much lower in energy and does not cause sunburn. UVA is capable of causing damage to collagen fibers, so it does have the potential to accelerate skin aging and cause wrinkles. UVA can also destroy vitamin A in the skin.
UVA light can cause DNA damage, but not directly like UVB and UVC, it does so indirectly by producing reactive chemical intermediates, such as hydroxyl and oxygen radicals, which in turn can damage DNA. The strength of a black light in comparison to sunlight is minuscule, so it is doubtful that UVA light poses any significant health risks. The weak output of black lights should not cause DNA damage or cellular mutations the way sunlight can.
In most laser tag domes or some movie theaters and bowling alleys use black light for special effects
The ultraviolet radiation itself is invisible to the human eye, but illuminating certain materials with UV radiation prompts the visible effects of fluorescence and phosphorescence. Black light testing is commonly used to authenticate antiques and banknotes. It is extensively used in non-destructive testing; fluorescing fluids are applied to metal structures and illuminated with a black light. Cracks and other artifacts can easily be detected. It is also used to detect pet excreta for elimination, such as urine, vomit and other substances that are not always visible to the naked eye.
It is also used to illuminate pictures painted with fluorescent colors (preferably on black velvet to intensify the illusion of self-illumination). The fluorescence it prompts from certain textile fibers, especially those bearing optical brightener residue, is also used as a recreational effect (as seen for instance in the opening credits of the James Bond film A View to a Kill).
In forensic investigations, black lights are used to reveal the presence of trace evidence, such as blood, urine, semen and saliva, by causing visible fluorescence in these substances. The use of this technique by exposé style television news magazines for reporting on the various unsanitary and mysterious stains found in hotel rooms has become such an oft-repeated stunt that it has been lampooned on comedy shows such as Family Guy and The Office (US).
In medicine, the Wood's lamp is used to check for the characteristic fluorescence of certain dermatophytic fungi such as Microsporan species which emits a yellow glow, or corynebacterium which have a red to orange color under the Wood's lamp. It is also used to detect the presence and extent of depigmenting disorders such as vitiligo. It can also be used to diagnose ringworm, fungal infections, corneal scratches, foreign bodies in the eye, blocked tear ducts, acne, erythrasma, tinea versicolor, microsporum canis, scabies, alopecia, porphyria, bacterial infections, and many other skin conditions.
In security, a pen with a fluorescent ink, generally a soft tip, is used to "invisibly" mark items. If the items are stolen then a black light can be used to search for the security markings.
Black lights are also used to differentiate real banknotes with counterfeit banknotes as, in many countries, real banknotes have fluorescent symbols on them that only show under a black light. Through this, security officers can check for counterfeit banknotes.
One of the innovations for night and all-weather flying used by the US, UK and Germany during 1939-1945 was the use of UV floodlights to illuminate the instrument panel, giving a variable intensity alternative to the Radium painted instrument faces and pointers, without visible illumination that would give away an aircraft's position. This went so far as to include the printing of charts that were marked in UV-fluorescent inks, and the provision of UV-visible pencils and slide rules such as the E6B. However, the common failure of the light's power inverter on take-offs in bombers, and the night-blindness and crashes caused when the blacklight filter fell off on trainer aircraft led to the system being mostly abandoned.
Black light puppetry is also performed in a black light theatre.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Black light.|
- Electricalfun.com - "Blacklight Fun"
- About.com - "What Materials Glow Under a Black or Ultraviolet Light?"
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- - "Medical Uses for a Wood's Lamp"