Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Understanding the Electromagnetic Spectrum
Originator Ted Milton
Department Department of Geography, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ
Tel. +44 (0)1703 593260
Fax +44 (0)1703 593295


The inter-disciplinary module on Remote Sensing for Earth Observation has been offered since 1983, and contributes to a 'Physics with Space Science' degree as well as to 'Geography'. Early in the course it is important to communicate the concept of the electromagnetic spectrum and the consequence of the interaction between electromagnetic radiation and the Earth's surface. Later in the course the students experience more conventional practicals in image-processing. The 'slide rule' is an A5-sized learning aid which each student develops for themselves. Movement of the inner card on side A allows a visual display of the link between a particular wave length, the spectral reflectance of different ground surfaces, and the ability of satellite sensors to measure it. On side B the whole electromagnetic spectrum is shown, with the details of relevant platforms and sensors alongside, and a variety of up-dateable characteristics of each platform are displayed by the sliding inner card.

Students are provided with a pre-printed outline card, and reference material, and have to elaborate on the basic design. Experience has shown that cross-discipline groups are very effective, as geographers bring environmental expertise and physicists have a better initial grasp of the physics. For the purposes of the course these skills need to be integrated, and the activity of making the slide rule assists both socially and intellectually. Cards are usually added to throughout the course, and serve as revision aids. The innovation developed from a computer-based hypertext program. Students benefited from the interactivity of the program but wanted a more portable output - especially since much of the information they gather to put on it comes from the Internet now. The slide rule is interactive, creative and updating involves virtually no expense.

The slide rule was one of three innovations in this course which contributed to Ted Milton's receipt of The Royal Society of Arts Partnership awards for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, BP Geography prize in 1994.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Demonstrating concepts and reinforcing theory.
  2. Assisting in the integration of physical and environmental concepts.
  3. Improving interpretation of graphical, textual and numeric information.
  4. Assisting in effective cross-disciplinary student group work.


The slide rule itself is submitted as part of the coursework assessment. It comprises 5% to 10% of the course assessment, of which 50% is exam-based.


Milton, E.J. (1994) A folded card slide-rule on the electromagnetic spectrum, International Journal of Remote Sensing, 15, pp.1141-1147


Cross discipline groups
Electromagnetic spectrum
Slide rule

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Practicals and Laboratory Work in Geography"

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