Black light magic

Fluorescent minerals: Click "hgrobe" link for mineral identification
Fluorescent minerals: Click "hgrobe" link for mineral identificationCourtesy hgrobe
Last week, while volunteering at Collector's Corner at the Science Museum of Minnesota, a visitor asked me if we had a black light. I explained that black lights worked best in black (dark) rooms so we put our black light in a black box. By holding minerals under the black light within the black box, one can sometimes see colors not visible when viewed normally.

The beautiful colors seen are a result of fluorescence. Fluorescence happens when electrons absorb energy from the high energy light and re-emit light of a lower, visible wavelength. Black lights get their name because the ultraviolet light from them is invisible. It has a lot of energy, though. Too much exposure to ultraviolet light will result in sunburn or eye damage.

Fluorescence is useful in research

Fluorescent cells: Bovine pulmonary arthery endothelial cells
Fluorescent cells: Bovine pulmonary arthery endothelial cellsCourtesy U S Govt
Fluorescence allows tracking or analysis of biological molecules. By attaching variously colored "tags", beautiful and useful images are allowing scientists to better understand what is happening, and where. In this image of endothelial cells, nuclei are stained blue with DAPI, microtubles are marked green by an antibody and actin filaments are labeled red with phalloidin. Last year the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien for their work with fluorescence.

More fluorescence fun

I just saw a BoingBoing post about fluorescence. Click the link to see more, but I embedded one of the You Tube videos below.

Tonic water fluorescence

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

sofia guizar's picture
sofia guizar says:

it so tight

posted on Fri, 03/05/2010 - 3:14pm

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