Alice, Daisy, Eliza (10) asked “What chemical makes objects glow in the dark?”

Thanks team. I think we will start by looking at the meaning of the words that end in the term ‘escence’.

Fluorescence is the the almost instantaneous emission of light by a chemical that has absorbed light or some other form of energy and  then re-emits it.
Chemiluminescence is used to describe the production of light from a chemical reaction.
Bioluminescence is used to describe the production of light from a living organism. It is a form of chemiluminescence as it is chemicals within the organism’s body that produce the light.
Incandescence is the emission of light from a hot body. A heated piece of iron will glow.
Phosphorescence is the slow emission of light from a compound that has absorbed some energy, in some form…might be radioactive energy.

Note all of them involve , at one time gaining energy and then re-emitting it or chemicals moving from one state to another where the final state is of lower energy.(If you want to find out a little bit more on energy go to this Science Master Special)

If you have access to a low intensity UV torch ( check with an adult) you can look at at the compound Quinine for an example of fluorescence. Quinine is a compound in Tonic Water. In a dark room shine the torch (a UV torch produces BLACK light) on the bottle of tonic water and watch what happens. You can then make some ice lollies using the tonic water and again see if they are fluorescent.

Thanks for the question. If you want to make a comment feel free to do so in the box below…or maybe…you have a further question?

(Revised 13/9/17 – added energy link)

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