How Infrared Works

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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The majority of non-contact thermometers that are in use rely heavily on how infrared works to remotely measure the temperature of objects. There are a few other kinds of non-contact thermometers, notably pyrometers, but IR thermometers are the standard for most non-contact temperature readings below 1,000 ° Fahrenheit. The discovery of how infrared works in the early 1800s started the ball rolling leading to the development of a long chain of IR devices for both civilian and government use.

The first recorded hint that IR radiation exists dates back to an experiment by the English Astronomer William Herschel in 1800. Using a prism and a thermometer, he detected high heat beyond the red region of the spectrum--the lowest frequency of any portion of the visible light spectrum. Subsequent experiments showed that all matter warmer than absolute zero emits infrared radiation, though it is undetectable by human eyes.

In the 20th century, government bodies and commercial firms began experimenting with how infrared works to develop certain practical tools. Two of the biggest inventions to utilize IR technology are night vision equipment and non-contact thermometers. Both graphically interpret the presence of infrared radiation for human uses.

Industries that Exploit How Infrared Works

IR thermometers are used in industries as varied as food service and steel making. Builders and HVAC engineers use IR thermometers to find holes in insulation around windows and doors. Firefighters also take advantage of the vision enhancing abilities of IR equipment to detect fires that are enclosed within thin walls and to see warm bodies through smoke, which doesn't show up on most IR devices.


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