Standing in the Light: How Stephen Ramsden Uses Solar Astronomy to Inspire Kids Across the Globe

The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project introduces kids to the fascinating field of Solar Astronomy while encouraging them to use their brains to achieve amazing things. We talked with the project’s founder Stephen Ramsden about the history of the project as well as his visions of the project’s future. Learn about how the project began, what continues to motivate Stephen, and how Solar Astronomy can be used to inspire greatness in future generations while instilling reverence for our planet.

What, specifically, inspired you to begin this project?

I was raised by a mother that encouraged science and reason. I was given several great opportunities by various people in my youth to learn and use science and math, which pointed me towards a lifetime of achievement through brainpower. When my friend and fellow veteran Charlie Bates committed suicide in 2008, I took a long look at why I was still here and he wasn’t. It all boiled down to people helping me to achieve at an early age and instilling self-confidence through using what I had learned in science.

I decided that the best thing I could do to pay homage to Charlie and to help the next generation would be to go out and help as many young people as possible to learn about the science of the natural world. At the time, no one was doing high-end Solar Astronomy and it seemed a perfect fit for something I could do en masse at schools, as it is a daytime pursuit. The Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project was born and has since expanded into 27 countries worldwide and seen over 750,000 students.

Any favorite memories you’d like to share?

Early on I had a young middle schooler ask me, “How much water would it take to ‘put out’ the Sun?” I loved her originality and it showed me a great understanding of what I was trying to teach.

How did your collaboration with Rainbow Symphony happen?

Mark and Sophie Margolis were my original vendor for Solar Eclipse glasses. I went a couple of years purchasing large amounts of their products, and when the program achieved global recognition, they decided that it was something that they wanted to support. They offered to sponsor our program and have since been the largest supplier of in-kind donations to our nonprofit. I could never have achieved the success we now enjoy without the help and generosity of Rainbow Symphony. We use their solar eclipse glasses and diffraction gratings in our program and have given away almost half a million units.

What is it about Solar Astronomy that continues to generate such intense interest?

The Sun is, surprisingly, still a mystery to most people. Everyone was raised to never look at the Sun, which in turn has made it something of a taboo to learn about in school. Every single time someone really looks into the telescopes at the Sun’s chromosphere, they are absolutely amazed at what they see. It’s like watching someone seeing Saturn’s rings for the first time, 500 or so times a day. It’s just…awesome.

What keeps you motivated?

Strangely, the constant reports of young people getting in trouble or losing their lives in ridiculously stupid, and wholly preventable, situations on the street keeps me motivated. I always think if I could have just gotten to that person when they were in middle school, things would be different.

What has been your favorite part of running Sunlit Earth?

Sunlit Earth is the expansion of CBSAP into how sunlight affects living terrestrial systems. It has allowed me to combine my passion for nature photography and my love of solar astronomy into a great STEM program that teaches people to be good stewards of the Earth, as well as to understand how our Sun is responsible for all life, as we know it.

What’s the greatest challenge in running an educational program of this nature?

Unfortunately, the greatest challenge of running any nonprofit is to get the general public to support it financially. Science has taken a back seat in our country to political extremism and finding new ways to isolate ourselves from “those people.” Rainbow Symphony is truly an incredible group of people as they have always stepped up to support this program. Mark and Sophie think in long term instead of short term gain. We are very proud to be associated with them.

What was your biggest goal in mounting this new program?

My goal has always been to have some kid, even just one, achieve greatness and think back to say, “Wow, that guy was really cool and his lecture opened my eyes to what I could become by using my brain to pursue science.”

How did you get CBSAP to go global? Do you plan to expand the same global reach with Sunlit Earth?

Sunlit Earth is already active in 4 countries. I used Facebook and Instagram to expand globally in the early days. Whenever I saw someone using rudimentary equipment in a 3rd world country to try and better their community, I made it a point to contact them privately and arrange for an equipment donation and a visit to help them be the best they could be. We have everything at our disposal in this country. It simply isn’t fair that we have so much and others who happen to have been born in a disadvantaged environment have so little.

My wife and I decided that we had more than enough stuff, so we make it a habit of giving away everything we can to provide opportunity where none existed before.

How many students and Solar Astronomy lovers has CBSAP and Sunlit Earth reached?

To date, I have personally administered the program to over 350,000 students while our affiliates and social media have reached untold millions. We tally all actual outreach events and have a global total of just over 750,000.

What is one thing you'd like people to understand about why Sunlit Earth is so important and how can they bring this to their town?

Well, we are clearly destroying our natural habitats at an alarming rate. People in developed countries have become addicted to screen time, which has almost completely removed the old school connection to the environment around them. You can see it in the garbage thrown everywhere in our cities and suburbs.

Sunlit Earth! teaches people about how sunlight is used by plants and animals to survive. It coincidentally reestablishes the connection to nature that our young people have forgotten. I have found that spending just a few hours outside in the woods or at a local nature preserve, without any screens in front of you, can produce a tangible and significant change for the better in how urban folks connect to their environment. I believe it will help teach people to appreciate nature more while educating them in Solar physics and the study of light.

The Science of Black Lights: How Black Lights Work

Halloween parties

From Halloween parties and groovy dorm room posters to science museums and crime scene investigation television shows, you’re probably familiar with black light technology. When they’re turned off, black lights look just like any other fluorescent lamp – but when they’re turned on, they do something a little bit different!

If you’ve ever been around a black light, you may have noticed that anyone wearing white is glowing a little bit brighter – as well as anything that’s specifically made to work with black lights. But I’m sure you’ve wondered, “how do black lights work?” Well, the science behind UV black lights is actually pretty fascinating.

In this blog, we’ll dig into the science behind black lights, different applications for black lights, and how you can create your own black light experiments to learn more on your own.

What Does the ‘UV’ in UV Black Light Mean, Anyway?

When you turn on a black light in a dark room, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that the light isn’t black… at least not exactly. A black light bulb actually glows a blue-purplish color. But why? To understand that, we need to talk about the visible light spectrum…

The human eye is capable of seeing light that falls within a narrowly defined spectrum of wavelengths, from about 380 nanometers to about 750 nanometers, with blue and violet light being in the 380-495 range. Beyond violet light is ultraviolet light – which is invisible to the human eye.

You’re probably most familiar with the term ‘ultraviolet light’ as it pertains to the sun and its effect on your skin. But there are actually different types of ultraviolet light, including UVA, UVB, or UVC. The UV rays produced by the sun that can cause sunburn are UVB; the ultraviolet light produced by your average UV black light is UVA, and far less harmful.

When you cast your black light over a white t-shirt, an invisible hand stamp you might get at a bar, or even your teeth, you’ll notice an intensity to that trademark purple glow. What you’re seeing is the glow of phosphors – which is defined as any substance that emits visible light when exposed to some radiation (before you’re scared off by the word ‘radiation’, remember: all forms of light are considered radiation!). A phosphor is responsible for converting the invisible black light into visible light. So how does it do this?

When a light particle strikes a phosphor, it triggers an electron to jump to a higher energy level and release heat. When the electron falls back to its normal level, it releases another photon, but with less energy than the original – since some of that energy was lost as heat.

Two Types of Black Light Bulbs

incandescent black light

There are actually two different types of black light bulbs, but both work in basically the same way:

  • An incandescent black light is similar to a standard light bulb, but it includes specialized filters that absorb most of the light produced by the bulb, except for the UVA light.
  • A tube black light is similar to a fluorescent bulb with a specialized phosphor coating. This coating only allows the UVA light to be emitted while absorbing the more harmful UVB and UVC light. The black coating essentially blocks most of the visible light aside from the blue-purplish glow corresponding to the UVA light.

In both designs, the answer to how these black lights work is pretty much the same: the UVA light that is emitted by the bulbs react with external phosphors, and those phosphors glow so long as they’re exposed to the UVA light.

The Many Applications for Black Lights

If you walked around all night with a portable black light, you would discover that there are phosphors all over the place. There are lots of natural phosphors, in your teeth and fingernails, among other things. There also a lot of phosphors in manmade material, including television screens and some paints, fabric, and plastics.

Most fluorescent colored things, such as highlighters, contain phosphors, and you'll find them in all glow-in-the-dark products. Clubs and amusement parks use special black light paint that glows different colors. You can also buy fluorescent black light bubbles, invisible black light ink, fluorescent black light carpet, and even fluorescent black light hair gel.

UV black lights

  • The real CSI: Crime Scene Investigators really do use UV black lights to examine crime scenes! For example, to find fingerprints, forensic specialists will use a fluorescent dust that sticks to fingerprints. Then, they will cast a black light around the scene to reveal the fingerprints among the surrounding environment.
  • Law enforcement, bank tellers, and even retail associates responsible for handling cash currency can use black light pens to confirm the authenticity of bills. In the United States, five dollar bills and above contain these fluorescent watermark strips to the left-of-center of the face of the bill. So if you ever think about paying with a fake bill, you’d better think again!
  • Black lights are often used to have good old fashioned fun! From Halloween parties to neon-lit raves, black lights create a one-of-a-kind kaleidoscope of color that can be further enhanced if party-goers are properly prepared. Special fluorescent body paint and makeup can elevate a Halloween costume or festival outfit into something unforgettable. Speaking of which, remember to bring your fireworks glasses!
  • Have you ever entered a baseball game or a theme park, only to have to go back to the car? You probably got a hand stamp on your way back out. Well, that’s using black light technology! Bars, clubs, concert venues, sports events, and amusement parks use fluorescent hand stamps and corresponding black lights to allow for readmission.
  • Because many modern paints contain phosphors that glow under black light, an antique appraiser can use a black light to detect forgeries. The older paint found on original antiques does not contain phosphors; if it glows, it shows… that it’s not authentic!
  • Air conditioning unit repair technicians can use black lights to locate otherwise invisible leaks in HVAC units. They do this by adding a small dose of fluorescent dye into the liquid coolant of the system. Then, they shine a black light on the unit and its network of vents to discover leaks in the system.
  • Believe it or not, scorpions will glow under a black light. This is due to a fluorescent substance found in the cuticle of the scorpion’s exoskeleton. So, if you’re ever planning on being out in the desert at night, be sure to bring a black light to check for these potentially dangerous creatures.
  • Last but not least, black lights are a great tool for studying light and color, of course! Black lights provide educators with another visually engaging experiment to teach students about the Electromagnetic Spectrum, visible light vs. invisible light, and how black lights work in general.

Discover UV Black Lights for Yourself

At Rainbow Symphony, we make it easy to learn more about how black lights work with our Hand-held 6” Black Light Fixture and UV color changing beads. Use the Hand-held Black Light to charge your color changing beads – or for a number of other black light-related activities such as illuminating black light-activated face paint at your next party!

If you have any questions, call us at 1-800-821-5122 or send us a message via our online contact form. Place your order today – and let us know how you use your UV black light.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum & The Rainbow

The Electromagnetic Spectrum is the range of all types of Electromagnetic Radiation. This radiation is defined by photons traveling at the speed of light. The EM spectrum is commonly defined by seven types of radiation – most of which you experience every day, whether you realize it or not!

seven types of radiation

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The Visible Light Spectrum is a subset of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. This is the only part of the EM Spectrum that humans can actually see with the naked eye. This includes the light from your desk lamp, your phone screen, rainbows, and even this graphic!

light spectrum

Rainbows are part of the visible light spectrum. They form when the light wave passes through a prism, like a water droplet, and is refracted – or bent – by the prism. That bent light is then reflected – or bounced off of – the surface of that prism again. This splits the spectrum into its various colors [see figure above] and, viola, produces a band of distinct colors!

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For more information about rainbows, or to find fun and educational tools to discover the wonders of the visible light spectrum for yourself, visit today!

Solar Filters and Why They're Important

solar filters

For years, humans have gazed towards the heavens with a sense of wonder and amazement – though they haven’t always done so having taken proper precautions. Some pretty incredible cosmic events take place in the stars right above us on a daily (and nightly) basis, and every so often a truly remarkable phenomenon captures the attention of more than just your casual star-gazer: a solar eclipse.

Whether you’re interested in deepening your scientific knowledge of the sun’s everyday behavior or you’re looking forward to the next solar eclipse, it is critical that you keep your eyes protected with only ISO Compliant; ISO 12312-2:2015 and ISO Certified Eclipse Shades, viewers, and solar filters.

At Rainbow Symphony, we’ve been designing products like diffraction glasses and Eclipse Shades for decades. Over the years, we have invested in research and development – and applied what we’ve learned from our own experience – to create our line of black polymer filters for a variety of viewing instruments.

Read on to learn more about solar filters and why they’re important!

How They’re Made

Our solar filter lenses are engineered from black polymer material that is designed to filter out all harmful solar radiation. This material makes them scratch-resistant and provides a safe optical density five+. The other benefit of black polymer over aluminum cell or glass filters? They’re lightweight, more affordable and saving you money.

solar filters

We offer our black polymer solar filters in the following diameters:

These lenses provide superior protection, filtering out 100% of ultraviolet and infrared light and 99.999% of intense visible light. All of our solar filters are CE Certified, meet the standard for ISO 12312-2:2015, and the transmission requirements of scale 12-16 of EN 169/1992 for safe direct solar viewing.

Why They’re Important

Attempting to view the sun during a solar event can damage your retina. During a solar eclipse, the moon moves in front of the sun, leading many to believe that it is safe to stare directly at the event. However, there are still an incredible amount of powerful, invisible solar rays hitting the naked eye, which can burn your retina – in some cases, permanently. This is known as “eclipse blindness,” which can actually result in a serious loss of vision or even blindness.

Your standard sunglasses, even if they are polarized or are made with darkened lenses, are not safe for viewing the sun as the amount of sunlight they allow to penetrate the lens is many times above the safe or acceptable limit. Glasses or devices properly outfitted with solar filters are the only safe way to look directly at the sun. While there are alternatives to black polymer solar filters, this material is lightweight, effective, and far more affordable than most other options.

orange-yellow image of the sun

Our line of black polymer filters includes multiple diameters. These solar filters are for cameras, telescopes, and binoculars; simply measure the outside diameter of your viewing instrument and purchase the filter with a diameter that’s larger than your instrument’s diameter. That way, you can be sure the filter covers the entirety of your lens, and by applying the felt tape included with the purchase of your filter, you can customize the fit to guarantee total coverage.

Once the polymer filter is properly in place around your viewing device, you’ll be able to safely view an unforgettable orange-yellow image of the sun – or even a solar eclipse.

Keep in mind: in order to ensure you’re fully protecting your eyes, you’ll need to pick up a pair of eclipse glasses, too. At some point during your solar viewing experience, you’ll likely need to move your eyes away from your viewing device (be it a telescope, binoculars, or a camera). Even when looking away, make sure your eyes are protected.

Various Applications

Our black polymer solar filters are for cameras, telescopes, binoculars, and more.

Professional photographers use solar filters for cameras to capture the incredible moments of the partial phases of a solar eclipse, while casual observers can use solar filters for binoculars and telescopes to experience the rare celestial event in real time!

But you don’t need to wait for a rare solar eclipse to take advantage of our solar filters. You can appreciate the everyday wonder of the sun safely and, if you’re a photographer, capture priceless photographs of our closest star.

A Few Helpful Tips

You must inspect your filter before applying to your viewing instrument; if there is any visible damage, you should throw it out and not use it for solar viewing.

When operating devices with solar filters around children, be sure to supervise their usage.

Always cover your eyes with a filtered device while looking away from the sun and then direct your gaze at the sun. When you’re finished looking at the sun or solar event, keep the filtered device and eclipse glasses over your eyes, avert your gaze to a safe angle and then remove the glasses and filtered device. Eclipse Shades can be worn over your prescription eyeglasses.

You should always consider seeking the advice of an expert, such as a professional astronomer or astronomical organization, before attempting to outfit your camera with a solar filter to take photographs to ensure you are taking all necessary precautions.

During a solar eclipse, if you are outside the path of totality, you need to always use eclipse shades and solar filtered equipment to view the sun directly. If you are inside the path of totality, you may remove the filter once the moon covers the sun completely; however, as soon as the edge of the sun begins to reappear, you must immediately replace your solar filtered devices and eclipse glasses.

Find the Right Fit

If you’re still looking for a reason to invest in our high-quality, dependable black polymer solar filters, don’t take our word for it: the American Astronomical Society has included Rainbow Symphony on its list of reputable vendors for eclipse glasses, viewers, and solar filters for binoculars! Explore every size of our premium and AAS and NASA-approved Eclipse Shades and filters now!

The Study of Light: Making Lessons About Light Fun for Your Students

lesson plan for your science

As an educator, there’s no greater thrill than seeing your students get excited about a subject. You know the feeling: suddenly, they’re sitting up straighter, they’re paying attention, they’re asking questions, and they’ve got that look in their eyes – they’re learning!

But it can also be easier said than done. If you’re repeating the same activities over and over again, or simply working from a textbook, you may find that attention spans run short and your students can start to lose focus. That’s why when it comes to the study of light, one of the ways to help capture your classroom’s attention is to use fun and engaging experiments to demonstrate some of the universe’s most fascinating concepts – right before their eyes!

Below, we’ll outline a few ideas to help you make a lesson plan for your science class that will help you make your students a little bit brighter when it comes to understanding the laws of light.

Begin with the Basics

First and foremost, it always helps to lay down a sturdy foundation of basic science. That includes reviewing what a scientist is, the scientific method, and why experimentation is important. This will help your students feel like they are scientists themselves – and realize that the experiments you’re about to engage in are a small part of a larger effort to provide additional proof to scientific theory.

A Few Experiments to Try

Diffraction of Light

diffraction of light

The diffraction of light is a great place to start when it comes to teaching students about the study of light and basic principles of physics. Begin by explaining the underlying concept of light diffraction: the bending of light as it moves past the edge of an object. How much that light bends will depend on the size of the opening through which the light passes, as it relates to the size of the wavelength of the light.

Now, at this point, depending on the age and level of interest your students have in science, you may start to notice the attention of your students waning. That’s your cue to introduce diffraction grating visual aids! If you have access to a slide projector, move through the various diffraction grating slides as you provide context for what it is they are looking at – the spectrum of visible light with various numbers of lines per millimeter and wavelengths of light.

Our diffraction grating slides are incredibly bright with a minimum of distracting visual noise. You can also use these in conjunction with colored gels for different color demonstrations. Last but not least, directly engage the interest of your students by passing out diffraction grating glasses that your students can experiment with themselves! Once you’ve laid the foundation of science for them, they can use these individual pairs of glasses to let them make an intimate connection between light, color, and diffraction.

UV Light

The electromagnetic spectrum can be a particularly challenging concept to teach kids, especially since only a short wavelength range falls in the visible light spectrum. Ultraviolet radiation is a critical aspect of the study of light – especially given the need for kids to understand the existence of UV light and potential dangers of prolonged exposure to it.

A fun and engaging way to visually demonstrate the power of UV light to your students is by using Sun-Bow UV Detection Beads. These beads change from a translucent white into stunning colors, including orange, yellow, blue, and pink, when exposed to UV light.

Surprise your students by introducing the day’s lesson plan for science class… with an arts and crafts workshop! Let them use pipe cleaners or string to express their creativity and make necklaces and bracelets using the beads. As they’re putting together their pieces, you can begin to plant the seeds of UV light, how it is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and is best known as the radiation produced by the sun. When you take your kids outside (or use a handheld UV light device), they’ll be thrilled to watch the beads change into a rainbow of color!

Not only will they have absorbed a lesson that they likely won’t forget any time soon, but they’ll also have a piece of original art to take home as a reminder.

Solar Eclipses

lesson plan for your science class

There is no better opportunity to teach your students about the wonders of the solar system than a solar eclipse. While these solar phenomena are rare, when they do occur, you can take advantage of the buzz and hype surrounding the event to create an unforgettable lesson plan for your science class and get your students genuinely excited about it

Your solar eclipse lesson can start well ahead of the actual event; in the days leading up to the event, outline the basic principles of the solar eclipse and why it is such a rare event. This is a great time to revisit the concepts of the solar system, how the moon revolves around the earth, which in turn, revolves around the sun. Finally, you can teach your students about the importance of safety when it comes to observing a solar eclipse (while you shouldn’t instill fear in your students, there’s no doubt that the element of danger will arguably be one of the most captivating aspects of the experience – and will certainly get their attention).

Once you’ve covered the underlying scientific principles of a solar eclipse and its relationship to the study of light, you can hand out individual eclipse viewers to your students. This can be done the day before the event to give them a chance to prepare. You can go through a dry-run of how to safely view the event through the viewers, and let them ask any questions or express any concerns.

On the day of the event, you can lead your students outside to witness the solar eclipse for themselves. Make sure everyone has their eclipse viewer and remembers the safety protocol. Your students will inevitably be excited to be outdoors and to finally be witnessing this event that you’ve been building towards for days or weeks.

After the eclipse, you can head back into the classroom, where you can revisit the basic principles of the solar eclipse now that you’ve actually seen it first-hand.

Follow Up Questions

After the experiment, take a few minutes to actually recap what just happened. This doesn’t have to be a quiz or a test (remember, we’re trying to make this fun, after all!); you can instead build off of the buzz of energy likely humming around your classroom – you might notice that suddenly even the quiet kids are more willing to raise their hands!

What did we just learn? What are the vocabulary terms we use to describe what just happened? And more importantly, why did what just happen actually happen?

This recap conversation can help ensure that the lesson plan for your science class sticks for both the visual and auditory learners in the class.

Get The Educational Tools You Need

grating glasses

At Rainbow Symphony, we have a number of educational products designed to make the study of light fun and accessible for students of every level of learning. Whether you need a bulk order of diffraction grating glasses to teach diffraction of light, eclipse viewers and shades to keep your kids protected as they learn about the cosmos, or UV detection beads to help your students see the real power of those invisible UV rays, we’ve got you covered!

If you need assistance in choosing the right educational tool for your class, simply shoot us a message today at 818-708-8400, or by email at


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