Currently, there are wave beams / lasers / rays that operate from the X-Ray region to the Radio Wave region. Patents to create Gamma Ray beams / lasers / rays are also underway.

However, I have always wanted to see a device that can freely change the nature of the wave beam / laser / ray, such that the fired beam can be altered from Gamma Rays all the way to Radio Waves.

Such a concept stems from The Culture's main weapon, The Effector.


"An effector is a multi-purpose electro-magnetic manipulation device. Effectors were distant descendents of electronic countermeasure equipment employed by stage three civilizations.

Effectors may be used to manipulate machines and electronics. This may take the form of interfering with the machine's operations, disabling systems, or outright subversion and take-over.

Effectorized minds may not even consciously realize they are under attack. A machine may defend itself against effectorisation by quarantining or shutting down affected portions of itself. A final measure would be to use independent automatic subsystems to initiate a self-destruct rather than allow itself to be subverted.

Animal brains and nervous systems also suffer similar effects when effectorised. Effectorisation may cause pain and unconsciousness. Similarly, effectors may induce involuntary muscle action, which may be used for medical purposes.

Effectors may be used to kill biological life and melt equipment. They may also create auroras."

The effects seem mostly alright, except for the mind control of AI. Giving biological life pain, is mostly akin to microwave radiation.

Thus, I only ask if it is feasible to have a machine that alters the frequencies of the EM wave to change its nature, from Gamma Rays all the way to Radio Waves. With that, the photon beam can take form of any of the main 7 rays.

My only rules is no Handwave or major Unobtainium.

  • $\begingroup$ I appreciate your passion for asking question about scientific concepts, on the other hand I strongly feel you should do more research before posting: any material which is exposed to radiation ends up getting hot, that's how our planet core is kept molten by Uranium and Thorium. That's exactly converting gamma ray to infrared radiation. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica that's a) not correct (85% of the energy released from U-235 nuclear fission manifests in the kinetic energy of the nuclei, which increase temperature directly, rather than gamma radiation) and b) not a machine. Asking for the viability of a controllable machine that can emit radiation in an organised fashion seems a completely reasonable question? $\endgroup$
    – Stephen
    Jan 24, 2020 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ If you want to be able to change photon's wavelength "on the fly" (and at will), that is not scientifically possible. What is possible is to absorb a photon and emit another one, with different wavelength. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Jan 24, 2020 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Not on the fly, I apologise. Just something like a tunable laser, where wavelengths / frequencies can be altered with a flick of a switch or something. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2020 at 1:36

2 Answers 2


It would be impossible to build a single optical train that could produce a beam spanning the entire spectrum from radio through to gamma. This is fifteen orders of magnitude range in frequency, from $\mathrm{10^3\ m}$ through to $\mathrm{10^{-12}\ m}$ (although open-ended at both ends).

Producing a variable-frequency source is fairly straightforward: take a bundle of matter, and heat it up to the correct temperature such that its black-body spectrum peaks at the correct frequency. Since the peak frequency is directly proportional to temperature (via Wien's displacement law) this will require a range of fifteen orders of magnitude in temperature control; a significant challenge, but "just an engineering problem".

The problem is that the materials required to manage the optics of focusing and directing the beam vary widely across the spectrum. Glass makes great lenses for visible light, for instance, but is opaque to both infrared and ultraviolet. Metal makes a great reflector for most of the spectrum, but at X-ray intensities and beyond the photons will start smashing electrons out of the metal surface rather than bouncing off, and gamma rays will pass straight through just about anything. Our go-to technique for focusing X-rays currently involves either 'grazing mirrors' (deflecting small parts of the beam with metal plates at a very shallow angle of incidence) or using a lens made of aluminium with lots of tiny holes in it. Aluminium, of course, is completely opaque to anything further down the spectrum.

Any 'full-spectrum' emitter is therefore going to have to be a hybrid containing a number of different beamtrains, each optimised for a portion of the spectrum (at this point it makes sense to abandon the single source and also have sources optimised for each wavelength range). There's no reason, however, why these couldn't be combined into a single instrument that packs them close enough together that it's hard to identify them as separate components. We're already experiencing this with multi-colour LED chips, where emitters of several different frequencies are packed together in one very small package such that they appear to be one multi-frequency device, and we're increasingly seeing five, six, seven or even more different colours on one chip, and for the emitters to be packed so densely on-chip that they are hard to distinguish. To an engineer even from the 60s (when LEDs were first invented and the technology could be scientifically understood) a set of RBGW fairy lights would be a near-magical display of spectral range. It's a perfectly reasonable 'engineering challenge' for an advanced civilisation to produce an emitter with a far greater range.

It's worth noting that physical limits would curtail the device's ability to focus radiation with a wavelength greater than its own dimensions. There's a reason why radio telescopes are kilometer-scale: it's the same scale as the radiation they're trying to work with. A meter-scale emitter would be limited at the bottom end to radio waves of $\mathrm{100\ MHz}$ or so.


I think the main problem here is the feasibility of "remote hacking" of both computers and organic brains. Heating objects is the most crude application of effector technology, or possibly an undesired side effect of more sophisticated modes.

  • In the real world, sensors can detect sideband radiation from electronic devices. A sufficiently advanced technology might be able to do that at longer distances.
  • Computers may be affected by cosmic radiation and the like. A sufficiently advanced technology might be able to do that on purpose.
  • Brain activity involves electromagnetic impulses. A sufficiently advanced technology might affect brains rather than electronics.

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