How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 1022

When you hold a flashlight to your hand, some of the light comes through. What light frequencies shine through people? Is it possible to see inside people? — PC
Biological tissues themselves are relatively transparent. They're not good conductors of electricity and electric insulators are typically transparent (quartz, diamond, sapphire, salt, sugar). But we also contain some pigment molecules that are highly absorbing of certain wavelengths of light. For example, the hemoglobin molecules in blood absorb green and blue light quite strongly, so that they appear red. When you look at a flashlight through your hand, the light appears red because of this absorption of green and blue light by hemoglobin. If you use a bright enough red light source and are willing to look very carefully, probably with sophisticated light sensing devices, you can probably see a little light coming through a person's body. But that light will probably have bounced several times during its passage, so that you won't be able to learn anything about what the person's internal organs look like. To get a better view of what a person's insides look like, you need light that penetrates more effectively and that doesn't bounce very often. Moreover, you must employ techniques to that block this bouncing light as much as possible so that you only see light that travels straight through the person. The light that does this isn't visible light—it's X-rays. X-rays are very high frequency, very short wavelength "light" (or rather electromagnetic waves). Tissue doesn't absorb these X-rays much at all and they can go through people to form images.

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