Friday, August 1, 2014

Episode 225 (8-4-14): Rainbows in Words and Wavelengths

Click to listen to episode (2:55)


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 4, 2014.

This week, we drop in on the annual convention of the International Association for Water Words.  As a rain shower diminishes, the word for a favorite air and water phenomenon is on many different tongues.  Sound imaginary?  Well, just have a listen for about 15 seconds.


If you know any Hawaiian, Chinese, Swahili, Italian, Hungarian, German, or Swedish, you may have recognized “rainbow” as the water word getting all the attention.  Whatever language you speak, your words probably take on a little more air of excitement when you spot a rainbow’s sky-crossing bands of colors.  The colors we perceive demonstrate that visible, white light is actually a spectrum of different wavelengths of light, ranging from the longest wavelength on the red end to the shortest on the violet end.  Colors appear in rainbows because raindrops bend different colors’ wavelengths at different angles.  Visible light, in turn, is one tiny part of the overall electromagnetic spectrum, from long-wavelength radio waves to short-wavelength gamma rays.  This reality of physics, combined with chemistry, has great application to water analysis.  Spectrophotometers can measure a substance in water based on how the substance’s chemical structure absorbs radiation at a given wavelength. 

Rainbows are fun worldwide; the radiation principles behind them are fundamental, universally.   Thanks to friends from Blacksburg, Virginia, and from China for lending their voices to this week’s episode; and just in case you’ve forgotten your rainbow colors, here are a few more friends to remind you.


For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 7/31/14]

Rainbow over Blacksburg, Virginia, April 25, 2014
Rainbow over the Beartooth Range in southern Montana, June 29, 2014.  Photo by Karin Solberg, used with permission.


Virginia Water Radio thanks friends from Blacksburg, Va., and Beijing, China, for recording rainbow-related words; and David Mitchem, Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, for providing information on spectroscopic methods of water analysis.

Sources for this episode

Thomas Engel.  Quantum Chemistry & Spectroscopy, 3rd ed.  Pearson Education Inc., Glenview, Illinois, 2013.

National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center, “Spectra and What Scientists Learn from Them,”

National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), “The Space Place Web” site, “Why is the Sky Blue?” at

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, “About Rainbows,” online at

Michael J. Suess, ed.  Examination of Water for Pollution Control—Vol. 1.  Pergamon Press, Oxford, England, 1982.

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