Photo of the day: Hot stuff

Students in Dr. Sarah Crider's class spent the morning using spectroscopes to view the incandescent "fingerprints" of specific chemical compounds.

This just in from Dr. Crider:

The students were observing the behavior of the "excited electrons" in metals.  When atoms absorb energy their electrons are excited to a high energy state . . . but what goes up must come down, and when the electrons relax down into a "ground state" they give off a variety of different photons or light.  The naked eye percieves these photons as a single colored light or flame.  However, when the students look through the spectroscope, they are viewing the light through a prism, so the light is separated into the individual wavelengths that make up the light our eyes see.

This is a neat link that shows what the students see when viewing the flame of a metal salt through a prism.  If you click on a single element you see its emission spectra, depicting the wavelengths of the photons that are emitted when electrons fall to the ground state.