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Atomic absorption spectroscopy


In analytical chemistry, Atomic absorption spectroscopy is a technique for determining the concentration of a particular metal element in a sample. Atomic absorption spectroscopy can be used to analyze the concentration of over 62 different metals in a solution.

Although atomic absorption spectroscopy dates to the nineteenth century, the modern form was largely developed during the 1950s by a team of Australian chemists. They were led by Alan Walsh and worked at the CSIRO (Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organization) Division of Chemical Physics in Melbourne, Australia. The technique typically makes use of a flame to atomize the sample, but other atomizers such as a graphite furnace are also used. Three steps are involved in turning a liquid sample into an atomic gas:

  1. Desolvation – the liquid solvent is evaporated, and the dry sample remains
  2. Vaporisation – the solid sample vaporises to a gas
  3. Volatilization – the compounds making up the sample are broken into free atoms.

The flame is arranged such that it is laterally long (usually 10 cm) and not deep. The height of the flame must also be monitored by controlling the flow of the fuel mixture. A beam of light passes through this flame at its longest axis (the lateral axis) and hits a detector.

The light that is focused into the flame is produced by a hollow cathode lamp. Inside the lamp is a cylindrical metal cathode containing the metal for excitation, and an anode. When a high voltage is applied across the anode and cathode, the metal atoms in the cathode are excited into producing light with a certain emission spectrum. The type of hollow cathode tube depends on the metal being analyzed. For analyzing the concentration of copper in an ore, a copper cathode tube would be used, and likewise for any other metal being analyzed. The electrons of the atoms in the flame can be promoted to higher orbitals for an instant by absorbing a set quantity of energy (a quantum). This amount of energy is specific to a particular electron transition in a particular element. As the quantity of energy put into the flame is known, and the quantity remaining at the other side (at the detector) can be measured, it is possible to calculate how many of these transitions took place, and thus get a signal that is proportional to the concentration of the element being measured.

Background correction methods

The narrow linewidths of hollow cathode lamps make spectral overlap rare. That is, it is unlikely that an absorption line from one element will overlap with another. Molecular emission is much broader, so it is more likely that some molecular absorption band will overlap with an atomic line. This can result in artificially high absorption and an improperly high calculation for the concentration in the solution. Three methods are typically used to correct for this:

  • Zeeman correction - A magnetic field is used to split the atomic line into two sidebands (see Zeeman effect). These sidebands are close enough to the original wavelength to still overlap with molecular bands, but are far enough not to overlap with the atomic bands. The absorption in the presence and absence of a magnetic field can be compared, the difference being the atomic absorption of interest.
  • Smith-Hieftje correction (invented by Stanley B. Smith and Gary M. Hieftje) - The hollow cathode lamp is pulsed with high current, causing a larger atom population and self-absorption during the pulses. This self-absorption causes a broadening of the line and a reduction of the line intensity at the original wavelength.[1]
  • Deuterium lamp correction - In this case, a separate source (a deuterium lamp) with broad emission is used to measure the background emission. The use of a separate lamp makes this method the least accurate, but its relative simplicity (and the fact that it is the oldest of the three) makes it the most commonly used method.

See also


  1. ^ S. B. Smith, Jr and G. M. Hieftje (1983). "A New Background-correction Method for Atomic Absorption Spectrometry". Applied Spectroscopy 37 (5): 419–424.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Atomic_absorption_spectroscopy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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