Shining a Light on the Subject by Matt Nicholas, E-M Science Teacher
Chemistry is the study of matter and energy, and the changes they undergo. Currently, we are looking at emission line spectra as a method of identifying unknown gases. Every element gives off specific wavelengths of light when it has electricity running through it. These types of light are commonly referred to as “neon” lights, but not all of these bright lights contain neon. Neon happens to produce a red orange color, but there are many other gases that yield the different colors of the spectrum.
Our students are using this experiment to look at just one variety of properties that electrons are responsible for. electron behavior is the primary area of study in chemistry because electrons are the outer most parts of the atom and are responsible for the way atoms interact with each other.
When the students use the pictured apparatus, called a spectroscope, to view the tubes of gas, they see a distinct line spectrum. We will then compare the spectra of the unknown gases with the spectra of known gases and determine what the tubes are filled with. Some practical applications of this technology are in forensics and cosmology.
Pictured is Dusty Axline using the spectroscope.