Atomic Emission are used as light sources for atomic absorption spectrometers, which detect the presence of elements by seeing whether a sample absorbs the very specific wavelengths of light associated with the electronic transitions of the given element. The lamp uses an electric arc to stimulate the element it contains to emit its characteristic wavelengths of light: The same electronic transitions are responsible for emission and absorption, so the wavelengths are the same. In theory, each different lamp should produce a different color of light characteristic of its element. Unfortunately, the lamps all use neon as a carrier gas: You generally have to have such a carrier gas present to maintain the electric arc. Neon emits a number of very strong orange-red lines that overwhelm the color of the specific element. In a spectrometer this is no problem because you just use a prism or diffraction grating to separate the light into a spectrum,then block out the neon lines. But it does mean that they all look pretty much the same color to the naked eye.
Click any element below to see all the samples of that element, or click on the sample picture to go directly to the description of that sample.
Text and images Copyright (c) 2010 by Theodore W. Gray.