Using UV Light to Kill Bacteria

The use of light to kill bacteria or “superbug” (bacteria that is resistant to most antibiotics) is not a new phenomenon and has been around since 1878. Arthur Downes and Thomas P. Blunt published a paper in 1878 on the properties of short wavelength light and its role in sterilization of bacteria. Later In 1903, Niels Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his use of UV for the treatment of the disease lupus vulgaris.

Over the years, despite the imposed limitations and environmental concerns with mercury, the best choice for these disinfection lights were often UV mercury lamps. Consequently, the demand for lower cost options that consumed less energy and without mercury evolved- the UV LED. UV LEDs (light emitting diodes) can produce wavelengths with a peak between 260 nm and 270 nm. This provides a powerful enough germicidal wavelength to be used as a disinfectant. Industries focused on air and water pollution, including the medical field find much use for these UV LEDs. The UVC disinfection is a physical process that disrupts the DNA of harmful microorganisms and destroys their ability to reproduce. It is important to note that this method does not help those people who are already infected by a virus but rather, helps in reducing the ability for the virus to reproduce itself on surfaces, reducing the spread of contamination. It is not a replacement for traditional cleaning and chemical disinfection protocols (wiping down a medical device or piece of medical equipment). As an effective solution for disinfection, UVC LEDs give medical equipment and device manufacturers the opportunity to assist their end-users with infection control and to create safer healthcare settings.

Today we see this UVC ‘blue light’ being used in disinfecting, subways, buses, banks disinfecting money, and used by robots for cleaning hospital floors. In addition, many companies are also manufacturing portable UVC lights that decontaminate areas frequently exposed to viruses. These handheld instruments can be especially useful in vehicles used by hospitals, EMS, police, and fire departments to assist in sterilizing their vehicles.

Most recently observed, is the impressive short turnaround time in development of these disinfection robots and instruments.  Specialist in the advanced manufacturing automation department at the Siemens Corporation located in China, helped produce a disinfection robot model using hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV) and ultraviolet (UV) light and had it in production in only one week’s time. These robots are used in hospitals, government buildings, and health locations worldwide.

As commendable as this UVC ray is in killing viruses, it is equally important to remember and be aware of the extremely harmful effects it can have on the human skin and retina. Because of this danger, many industries now use an artificial replication of UVC to better control its usage as a disinfectant method. This controlled method is Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method or process that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill microorganisms.

Today, the University of Nebraska uses the UVGI method in a controlled environment. With the dangerous shortages of personal protective equipment, the ability to use and reuse protective gear often becomes a real need. Recently, the University of Nebraska addressed this need with the development of a N95 Filtering Facemask Respirator Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) process for use in decontamination and reuse. They created a process to disinfect protective masks using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI).

As development and use of UVC and UVGI are becoming more readily available, such is the need for testing used to confirm the safety and accurate measurements of these instruments.

Konica Minolta Sensing Americas has been providing resources and instruments for many years as well as setting UV LED calibration standards and addressing the hazards of blue light through our various testing processes. Konica Minolta Sensing provides an all-in-one system for determining various measurement quantities and tools to verify measurement results. To learn more about our UV measurement instruments visit us at

“Corona is changing the industrial world – how digitalization and automation are helping make production future-proof” by  Klaus Helmrich Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO Digital Industries “N95 Filtering Facepiece Respirator Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) Process for Decontamination and Reuse

Downes, Arthur; Blunt, Thomas P. (19 December 1878). “On the Influence of Light upon Protoplasm”. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. 28 (190–195): 199–212. Bibcode:1878RSPS…28..199D. doi:10.1098/rspl.1878.0109.

“The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1903”. The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2006-09-09.

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