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Atomic Spectroscopy


The emission spectrum of a chemical element or a chemical compound is the set of frequencies of the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the electrons of its atoms when they perform a transition from one state to a higher energy towards a lower energy .
For each transition between states, the energy of the emitted photon is equal to the energy difference of the two states according to the equation :


which correlates the energy of the transition with the frequency of the photon of light emitted (h is Planck’s constant) . Since in each element or chemical compound there are many possible transitions, the set of photons of different frequencies emitted by the element or by the molecule is its the spectrum .

The emission spectrum of each element or molecule is unique, for this reason its analysis, known as spectroscopy, can be used to qualitatively and quantitatively analyze a substance.
The emission spectra are distinguished:

  • Discrete lines spectra: it correspond to a succession of discrete wavelength
  • Band spectra: the lines are close to each other around some wavelength forming separate bands
  • Continuous spectra: continuous succession of wavelength

The discrete spectra and band spectra are emitted by gas and vapor at low pressure. The first are due to isolated atoms, the second to diatomic molecules. The spectra are characteristic of the elements that emit them.
In the hydrogen atom, the quantum leaps of an electron between the orbitals are described by the equation Rydberg :


with ni > nf represent the initial and the final energy levels, me and e respectively the mass and the charge of the electron, c is the speed of light, h Planck’s constant and ε the dielectric constant. In the spectrum of hydrogen this equation realizes perfectly the presence of some series of lines, called Lyman, Balmer and Paschen. The Balmer series is the only which fall in the visible, and corresponds to the transition from the energy levels greater than level 2; the most important line of this series is called , its wavelength is approximately 6563 Å, which corresponds to red light, and is given by the electron transition between levels 3 and 2.

Absorption and Emission Spectra

With the grating spectrometer described in one of previous posts we have examined a number of light sources with the aim of highlighting the emission and absorption lines of some chemical elements. In particular, we have used spectral lamps. These are constituted by a glass tube, inside which there is a low pressure gas (hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide), when a voltage of 3000-5000 V is applied to the two electrodes   a discharge of ionized gas is formed that emits light in correspondence to the characteristics emission lines of the gas contained in the tube.

Spectral Lamps : Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide



Low pressure hydrogen spectral lamp with high voltage high frequency power supply. The main hydrogen emission lines Ha at 656nm and Hb at 486nm are evident.



Low pressure nitrogen spectral lamp with high voltage high frequency power supply. The main nitrogen emission lines and bands are evident.

Carbon Dioxide

Low pressure carbon dioxide spectral lamp with high voltage high frequency power supply. The main carbon dioxide emission bands are evident.



In the first spectrum of HV plasma with sodium chloride is evident the doublet sodium line at 589nm. The second spectrum shows the detail of the absorption line in a sodium-vapor lamp


Spectrum of potassium chlorate match – evidence of potassium doublet at 770nm

Pdf document with the complete description of the spectroscopy experiments: SpettroscopiaAtomica_ENG

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