Why is Ultraviolet Light Used to Sterilise Fluids?

Why is Ultraviolet Light Used to Sterilise Fluids?

Science

Ultraviolet light was discovered in 1801 by Johann Wilhelm Ritter, the famous physicist who was curious as to why blue light had greater effects on silver chloride than red light. Johann Wilhelm Ritter was considered extremely controversial due to his lack of ability to explain his experiments. Owing to this tradition, let’s avoid explaining the discovery, and explain how this fascinating ray of light is used across the world two centuries from its discovery for multiple life-changing purposes.

Ultraviolet Light

Ultraviolet or ‘UV’ light is a form of light produced by the sun. Ultraviolet rays cannot be seen by the human eye as this form of light tends to operate below wavelengths of 380 nanometres, while the human eye can view wavelengths between 380 – 700 nanometers. The lowest colors within the spectrum are purple and violet. The purple hue you associate with ultraviolet comes from the fact that purple and violet have the shortest wavelengths within the color spectrum visible to humans. What humans technically see is a more ‘purple than purple’ light, hence the term ultraviolet.

Use Within Science

Ultraviolet light is used liberally across the scientific community, and the primary use of UV is the ability it carries to sterilise fluids and surfaces. This is due to the effect UV rays have on living organisms. To begin explaining this, it can be easier to think about human skin cells. Exposure to the sun and ultraviolet tanning beds break down a person’s DNA and the result is beautifully tanned skin. Your skin is bronzing as your body begins to protect that exposed area of the body from any further damages to the skin cells exposed.

With that in mind, it might be worth knowing bacteria and germs (human parasites) contain a double-stranded genetic structure (DNA). The results are the same on these organisms, but maybe not the tan. Human pathogens exposed to ultraviolet rays are destroyed or deactivated, and the rays themselves scatter the DNA of these pathogens, disabling the ability for them to grow and reproduce into fatal diseases.

Many scientific instruments these days come with built-in UV lighting systems as standard and prevent years of work from being lost due to bacterial contaminations growing within experimental materials. A good example of this is the Cell line development workflow. The unit itself is like many these days sporting independent UV lights regularly maintaining the organic health of encapsulated materials.

Drinking Water

It may surprise some to realize that drinking water is also subject to UV rays internationally at water treatment plants. Back in 2012, New York City opened up the then world’s largest drinking water disinfection plant equipped with 56 UV units. The facility is capable of processing over 9 billion litres every day. UV rays are especially effective against waterborne pathogens, such as cryptosporidium and giardia. These pathogens will be subject to the DNA-altering UV rays destroying them, preventing them from making their way into the bodies of the city’s inhabitants.

The use of Ultraviolet rays has been relied on for over 200 years, with the primary focus of looking good and sterilizing professional equipment, fluids, and surfaces. The profound ability to manipulate DNA structures is what gives this ray of light a place in laboratories and water treatment plants worldwide.

Science

Why is Ultraviolet Light Used to Sterilise Fluids?