Nicholas Barbier
Chemistry Block D
Concerning the Emission Spectra of Elements
In this lab numerous chemistry principles were addressed. The most obvious of these is the
emission spectrum of an element. This is a description of the intensity of different wavelengths
of light that are emitted by an element, either when it is burned, or when (if it is a gas) is excited
through high voltage electricity. This is a result from electrons, normally in ground state or
filling all the lowest energy levels possible, being excited and going into an excited state in
which they make a quantum leap to higher energy levels than in the ground state. When the
electrons of the atom drop back down into ground state they release the excess energy in the
form of the quantum of electromagnetic radiation; the photon, which is observed as light when
in the visible spectrum of wavelengths. The elements that are used in this lab are ions instead of
atoms due to the reactive nature of pure elemental atoms. This reactivity exists because the
electron level of the burned elements only has one or two atoms instead of a full level. The ions
of these elements have electron configurations identical to the noble gasses preceding them.
Also these elements are even less reactive because they are chlorides, meaning that they have
been bonded with chlorine to form a salt; this makes the burning much simpler.
Safety Analysis:
This lab involves the use of fire and electricity both of which are dangerous manifestations of
energy. In order to stay safe students must be required to wear goggles and aprons at all times.
Should there be any issue with an out of control fire the gas should be turned off immediately.
Also if there are any problems with the electricity and the light bulbs, the bulbs should be
unplugged immediately. Should any of these problems occur the student or students involved
should, if the teacher has not noticed, get her attention so that she can plan the best course of
action needed to deal with any issue. The chemicals used in this lab are not very reactive and do
not need to be treated with excess caution.
Observations and Data:
Element Burning
Sodium, Na+1
Sodium with cobalt glass
Calcium, Ca+1
Copper, Cu+2
Potassium, K+1
Potassium with cobalt glass
Strontium, Sr+2
Lithium, Li+1
Sodium & Potassium mixture
Sodium & Potassium mixture with cobalt glass
Orange/yellow (color of normal flame)
White, hints of Neon Blue
Dark orange, some green
Blue/green, white orange pointy streaks in
center (most likely residue)
White with slight pink
Dark red orange
Dark red/pink (wine colored)
Bright orange
Pink, white at edges
Dark red/pink (wine colored)
Gas Tubes: Numbers from 0-10 indicate intensity-blank means 0
Gas Tube
Hg (blue)
H (bubble gum
Ar (purple)
I (white)
O (white with
Light Bulbs
Description with glasses
Bright white color
Boxes of all colors of the same
shape as the light fixtures.
There was more intensity in
the green wavelengths with
some blue and red.
More yellow and a softer
A rainbow ray protrudes from
color than the fluorescent bulb the bulb. Violet is closest to
the bulb and red is farthest
from the bulb. The spectrum
was the same as the
fluorescent but more intensity
in the red and orange parts of
the spectrum.
Energy saver
A color in between the
Bars of the rainbow spread
fluorescent and regular bulbs
out from the source with the
in terms or the yellow content. strongest wave lengths at
green with blue and red at
medium intensity.
1. Li+ or Lithium is the unknown ion because the color of the emission when the unknown
ion was burned matches the color of the emission when Lithium or Li+ was burned.
2. This qualitative method is a somewhat practical way to determine the metals in a
mixture. Most of the metals flame colors were different enough to allow differentiation
with the naked eye; however, should two flame color be similar, because of the
inaccuracy of human observation and the introduction of personal bias into results it
may be harder to differentiate metals. Perhaps the most effective way to perform this
experiment would be to use a spectrometer that takes a measurement much closer to the
exact wavelength of the light than is possible with the human eye.
3. The potassium ion in the mixture was the less powerful color. Without the introduction
of the cobalt glass the wavelengths of the sodium blocked out the mostly white light
(with some pink) of the potassium. When the cobalt glass was introduced the red and
orange wavelengths of the sodium flame were absorbed by the glass and only the pink
and purple wavelengths of the potassium flame were able to travel through the glass
and reach the retina of the human eye.
4. This flame test could be invalids for two clear reasons. The first is simply that the human
observer of the flame could be colorblind, preventing them from viewing the color of the
flame correctly. Second, the observer may simply have been an inaccurate observer who
lacked the ability to correctly describe the color of the flame.
5. A material’s absorption spectrum is a description of the wavelengths of light that this
material absorbs as photons pass through it. For example pure white light should have
an even spectrum of the entire rainbow when split by a prism; the sun emits white light
therefore it should be expected that when refracted, sunlight forms a spectrum with
equal quantities of all the colors of the rainbow. This is not the case. There are instead
dark lines in the emission spectrum of the sun which represent the absorption spectrum
of atmospheric gas. A material’s emission spectrum, on the other hand is a description of
the wavelengths of light that a material emits when heated. This is the same as a
description of the energy of photons that fall from higher energy levels back down.
6. Helium-
These diagrams show the color of all noble gases which have been energized through a
high voltage electric field. The websites used to obtain images for all the noble gases
except Radon was Wikipedia; however, the accuracy of these images was confirmed
using the website from which the Radon images came from. The only reason for using
the Wikipedia images as opposed to the other website’s images was reasons of aesthetics
(Wikipedia’s pictures look better).
The source that was used for Radon and confirmed Wikipedia’s results is this:
Galidakis, I. N. "The Science of Color, the Emission Spectra of the Elements and Some
Lamp Engineering Applications." Virtual Composer. N.p., 20 Aug. 2010. Web. 25 Oct.
2010. <http://ioannis.virtualcomposer2000.com/spectroscope/elements.html>.
The Wikipedia images can be found at the top right of the respective Wikipedia pages
for each element.
The website appears to be legitimate for although it is a “.com” website it contains
numerous links and references to outside sources.
7. Both the flame test and using a spectroscope (assuming that this spectroscope is the
glasses) allowed the viewer to observe what type of electromagnetic radiation (in
particular light) was being emitted by the substance.
8. The flame test illustrates the ideas of electrons and energy levels because it shows that
elements when burned do emit photons as energy to lower the energy level that they are
in. The class learned the Aufbau principle which states that electrons must first fill the
lowest vacant energy levels before filling higher energy levels. The class also learned
that when excited, electrons jump to higher levels leaving lower levels vacant. This
violates the Aufbau principle. In order for the atom to remain in balance the atom must
release the extra energy contained by its excited electrons to allow them to occupy again
the vacant energy levels. As viewed in this lab, that energy is light in the form of an
oscillating photon, the quantum of electromagnetic radiation, at different wavelengths.
The eyes of the observer can view these different wavelengths and discern them as
different colors. The differing colors between elements are explained by a different
number of protons which leads to a different electron configuration in the atom.
Another property that was illustrated was that of the different distances between
“rungs” in electron energy levels. As seen in the data the elements closer hydrogen or
whose electrons in ground state exist at low energy levels on the Periodic Table of the
Elements gave off light of wavelengths closer to violet. In other words the elements
whose electrons jumped between lower energy levels (i.e. level 2 to 3) instead of higher
levels (i.e. level 4 to 5) gave off photons of a higher frequency. A higher frequency of
oscillation corresponds to higher energy therefore this demonstrates that the spaces
between electron levels are unequal; they become closer with less energy needed for
each quantum leap are the levels get higher.
Fireworks and makers of fireworks take advantage of human knowledge of the colors that
elements burn at. Because fireworks makers know the colors at which elements burn they use
they specific elements to gain desired effects in fireworks shows. Fireworks are carefully
designed to elements that have specific burn rates at colors and textures that excite wonder in
people watching.