What is light?

Dr. Hugo Niggli Everybody knows the importance of light for our daily life. After a cold winter the earth regains vital energy in springtime mostly by irradiation of the sun. As soon as white light enters a prism, it divides into different spectral colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Isaac Newton (1642-1727) observed this as a young scientist at the age of 25 years. This experiment showed that white light is a mixture of the rainbow colors. The spectrum of light is not only found in the rainbow. In the process of forging you can observe that iron, as soon as it is heated by the fire, changes colors from dark to bright red and finally transforms slowly into white.

All solid matter, which is not combustible, behaves the same. It is obvious that long wave lengths appear at lower temperatures. As the temperature rises, we will else observe shorter wave lengths until all wave lengths are present in the incandescent material. Investigations on stars, which are extremely hot, showed that long wave lengths slowly disappear and the color changes into the blue region of the spectrum.

The profound scientific perception of Max Planck (1858-1947) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955) on the quantum theory of light explained this behavior. Their theoretical calculations showed that light exhibits both wave- and particle-like properties. In 1803 Thomas Young (1773-1829) proved interference patterns in light. This experiment showed that light is based on waves, which was already stated by Christiaan Huygens. The electromagnetic theory of light was founded by James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879).


He stated that light is a combination between electric and magnetic fields. In 1900 Max Planck postulated that electromagnetic radiation (see Figure 1) is based on discrete packets also called quanta or photons. Figure: Electromagnetic spectrum (source: Wikipedia) The particle property of light was used in 1905 by Albert Einstein to explain the photoelectric effect and he received the Nobel Prize of 1921 for this discovery in the year 1922.

As a practical application, this finding is used to measure photons by the use of sophisticated photomultiplier systems. In this measurement technique, an electron is emitted from the photomultiplier cathode when a photon is absorbed. This electron is intensified in a snowball effect by several dynodes connected in series. The electron flow reaches then the anode and is recorded as a test impulse. It is possible to detect by this sensitive method the light of a candle more than 20 kilometers apart. Another application is found by the automatically closing of the door of an elevator. A beam of light in the door system encounters an area of metal.

An electric current begins to flow and the door closes therefore. If this beam of light, however, is interrupted by an entering person, no current flows anymore and the door remains open. The electromagnetic radiation on our earth we are not aware of the high electromagnetic energy field around us.

As shown in Figure 1, the wide spectrum of electromagnetic radiation reaching the earth from the sun through space covers all frequencies from cosmic rays, gamma rays, X-rays ultraviolet, visible and infrared radiation up to radio waves. A considerable part of this radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere of the earth and will not reach the surface of the earth. It is know that the ozone layer in the stratosphere absorbs almost all short wave lengths of ultraviolet light.

It is very important that this high energy radiation does not reach the earth surface or only in a very weak form as UVB-light in order to avoid changes in DNA structures of living cells. This absorption of ultraviolet light is a counterpart of the open window in the region of the visible light. Other open atmospheric windows are found in the infrared region and in the electromagnetic spectral part of radio waves. The history of quantum ether In order to understand the biology of light, a brief digression into history of light and its medium, ether, is needed.

When Augustin Jean Fresnel (1788-1827) began working on the wave theory of light, he named this medium after Aristotle’s (384-322 BC) fifth element, ether. Aristotle divided creation into an earthly and an heavenly world. According to Aristotle, the heavenly world is the world of ether, while, the earthly world is the one of the four elements earth, water, air and fire.

Aristotle clearly distinguished ether from the matter of the elementary world and also from the immaterial world. The Aristotle concept of ether is thus clearly one of a very fine matter. In the year 1881, Albert Abraham Michelson (1852-1931) in collaboration with Edward Morley (1838-1923) tried to prove this theory of ether. Michelson and Morley measured, therefore, the speed of light in two vertical directions. There was no difference within the experimental error measured in both cases, and in 1905 Albert Einstein solved the problem as follows: He demonstrated that light behaves as both particle and wave.

A particle does not require a medium, however, in the sense in which a wave does. As late as 1920, Einstein himself still spoke of a type of ether that was not measurable but something of a very fine matter. He demonstrated further the unity of space, objects and events. This opened the door for an intensive investigation of the properties and structures of empty space itself. And in the meantime it happened that quantum theory began to fill empty space with an ether which took account of the theory of relativity.

This new ether concept was also on the point of stripping off the last traces of mechanistic and even material properties – back to the ancient origins of the ether idea as described by Aristotle. This new ether is known in science as the zero point energy of the vacuum. The history of quantum ether began, like the origin of the quantum theory itself, with its founder Max Planck. Based on his calculations published in the year 1912, he assumed the existence of a zero point field. The great physical chemist Walter Nernst (1864-1941) finally followed Planck’s lead and argued that, even in empty space with no matter or radiation – if at absolute zero point (-273° C) only a vacuum remains – the electromagnetic field must still be in a state of constant activity and consequently have zero point energy.

According to the quantum theory, at this absolute zero point, there is still motion in a physical system (e.g. atom, molecule, crystal) and the empty space in a atom still has zero point energy. How important this energy even in the most simple hydrogen atom can be is best visualized as follows: In the middle of a soccer field we see the ball as symbol for a proton. The centre of the goal presents a tiny point of a needle representing an electron. The entire field around is empty space filled with zero point energy.

The physicist Archibald Wheeler (University of Texas) calculated that this zero point energy contains in one cubic centimeter of empty space 10^115 Joules, more energy than that contained in all the matter of the known universe. Although other calculations yielded far lower values for the energy density of the zero point field in the vacuum, this still means that a drinking glass of empty space contains enough energy to make an ocean like the Atlantic boil. In an article published in the mid 80s of last century in Physical Review, Hal Puthoff showed that matter can only exist in a stable state if there is a dynamic interaction between subatomic particles and the zero point energy field which produces this particles.

Through physical calculations he also demonstrated that the fluctuations of the waves of the zero point field drive the movements of subatomic particles and that all the movements of all the elementary particles in the universe, for their part, create the zero point energy which extends throughout the entire cosmos. This means that we and all the matter in the universe are linked with the far corners of the cosmos by the waves of the zero point field. Electromagnetic interaction with atoms and molecules The most important classification of electromagnetic radiation is based on its interaction with atoms and molecules.

Radiation of the ultraviolet and the adjacent visible spectral range (as well as all other less energetic radiation) is summarily referred as non ionizing radiation as opposed to ionizing radiation. The latter is represented in the electromagnetic spectrum essentially by X-rays and gamma-rays; other kinds of ionizing radiations (such as beta-rays, alpha-rays etc.) consist of charged particles.Ionizing radiation, in contrast to non ionizing radiation, is capable of charging all kinds of atoms and molecules. Absorption of non ionizing radiation, however, leads to electronic excitation of atoms and molecules. The radicals induced by ionizing radiation can change, damage and even destroy functions of the cell.

We all remember the fatal effect of this radiation in the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But there are also positive effects as found in radioactive thermal sources which are well known for their healing qualities. Much less scientific research has been undertaken with electromagnetic wavelengths in the lower energy spectral range. But this radiation also shows interactions of biological importance. Klaus Bayreuther, a researcher in the field of cell biology, published that very weak electromagnetic fields accelerate the aging of skin cells. But also the influence of mobile phones on the human health has to be considered as reported by Gérard Hyland in a publication of the year 2000 in the well known medical journal “The Lancet”.