Observing the Electromagnetic Spectrum

Contact Information:

  • Matt Laird. Email: mslaird@mtu.edu
  • Heather Murphy. Email:hmurphy@hancock.k12.mi.us


The Electromagnetic Spectrum offers Astronomers and Astrophysicists a powerful tool to learn about our Universe. In this lesson students will learn about the various instruments, both ground based and in orbit, used by Scientists all over the world to catalog and understand the immensity of our Universe as well as our Celestial neighbors near and far (cosmically speaking…).

Lesson Content Overview:

  • Engage (20 min) The saying “Seeing is Believing” is no longer appropriate as more people are using imaging to manipulate the truth. ‘Observations Inferences and the Flat Earth Baseball’ activity demonstrates the importance of distinguishing observations from inferences when analyzing provided information. Don’t confuse your observations from your inferences.
  • Explore (50 min) Utilizing an online planetarium, students will see the universe in every wavelength of Electromagnetic radiation. This will not only entice students, but also lead them into a self guided discussion of the instruments scientists use to make these observations.
  • Explain (50 min) Tools for Observing the Stars is a Google slide show describing some of the more noteworthy telescopes and observatories. The described instruments are used to examine each of the different types of electromagnetic radiations. Past, Present and future instruments are included. Additionally, there is a little information about gravitational wave detection, the newest instruments to shake up the astrophysics world.
  • Elaborate (55 min) What better way to demonstrate the detection of electromagnetic waves then to have the students produce the electromagnetic waves (Radio waves) that they then detect. The students will make a telegraph that creates the radio waves that will then be detected by a simple coherer energy detector. With this Radio Transmitters and Receivers activity students will follow directions and answer questions enabling them to feel the power of creating radio waves.

Connections to Prior Learning:

Supporting Materials:

Observing the Electromagnetic Spectrum – Lesson Plan

Resource – Observation and Inferences Slides

Resource – Tools for Making Observations Slides

Resource – Making Radio Waves Project Written Directions

Resource – Making Radio Transmitter Picture Explanation

Resource – Cohere in Action Video

About the Team:

Petra Huentemeyer, PhD (petra@mtu.edu), Professor, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI


Henrike Fleischhack, PhD (henrike.fleischhack@ptb.de), Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), Germany


Xiaojie Wang, PhD (xwang32@mtu.edu), Post-Doctorate, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI


Katelyn McCarthy (kpsutton@mtu.edu), Teacher, Kalamazoo Area Mathematics and Science Center, Kalamazoo, MI


Matt Laird (mslaird@mtu.edu), Instructor, Gogebic Community College, Houghton, MI


Heather Murphy (hmurphy@hancock.k12.mi.us), Teacher, Hancock High School, Hancock, MI


Tamala Sebring (tamala.sebring@gmail.com), Teacher, Pittsfield High School, Pittsfield, MA

Interested in Joining?

The call for applications to participate in this RET will be posted in the fall.


Check back here or contact Petra Huentemeyer for more information.