X-Ray Spectra

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In this activity, learners use simple materials to simulate the effect of X-rays in a safe way. Learners place a piece of window screen over a box and a cardboard pattern on top of the screen. They sprinkle sand over the area of the box. The sand simulates X-rays passing through the screen to the bottom of the box, except where they are blocked by the cardboard. Use this activity to demonstrate how X-rays create an image, including "soft" and shorter wavelength X-rays as well as X-rays from space.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Simulation


Materials List (per student)

  • Ordinary window screen
  • Box (like a shoe box lid)
  • Pattern made of cardboard
  • Sand


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Astronomy
  • Physical Sciences
    • Vibration and Waves
      • Wave Properties
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
      • Medical Technology
      • Information and Communication


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Fetter, Neil


  • All rights reserved, The Exploratorium, 2007