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Planck Radiation Laws: Excel; Mac or PC

Activity and Starting Point page by R.M. MacKay. Clark College, Physics and Meteorology.
This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


Students use an existing Excel workbook to investigate how spectral irradiance from a blackbody radiator depends on temperature, and to clearly see the connection between Planck's Radiation law, and the Stefan-Boltzman and Wien Radiation laws. Students adjust the solar temperature to get the best fit between observations and the spectral irradiance calculated from Planck's Radiation Law for a blackbody radiator. Two sets of observational based solar spectral irradiance are included for comparison.

Learning Goals

Context for Use

Useful in introductory courses in Meteorology, Atmospheric Science, Climate Change, or Earth Systems Science when studying radiative transfer in the atmosphere.

Teaching Materials

The Excel Workbook XLPlanck (Excel 622kB Apr3 04) contains 6 sheets:

Teaching Notes and Tips

The Excel document can be used for the following purposes:

The Excel activity take about 2 hrs to work through. Students more familiar with Excel can do it more quickly. It is assumed that students have some previous experience with the Excel environment.

Using the JAVA applets in the resources section below in either an interactive lecture or interactive student-centered learning experience may prove useful.


Completion of the activity is one measure of student success.

The figure is from the sunII sheet of the XLPlanck workbook after the Planck model temperature has been adjusted to fit the observed spectral irradiance values. (click image to enlarge)

References and Resources

The Planck Radiation Law (more info) site introduces Planck's model equation for the spectral irradiance of a black-body radiator and the connection between the Planck Radiation Law, and the Stefan-Boltzman and Wein radiation laws. This site has connections to three on-line interactive JAVA Applets:

The JAVA Applet BlackBody is great for interactive lectures or student use as it surperimposes the visible spectrum on the Planck radiation curve. Care must be taken when using JAVA Applets in that they may not work on all browsers.

Resources on getting started with Excel are available HERE.


Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Climatology :Solar radiation, Geoscience:Atmospheric Science:Meteorology:Solar and terrestrial radiation

Resource Type

Activities:Lab Activity

Grade Level

College Lower (13-14):Introductory Level

Ready for Use

Ready to Use

Earth System Topics

Climate, Atmosphere


Teach the Earth:Teaching Environments:Intro Geoscience, Teach the Earth:Incorporating Societal Issues:Climate Change, Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Weather, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Atmospheric Science

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