Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, the emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation. However, when the absorbed electromagnetic radiation is intense, it is possible for one electron to absorb two photons; this two-photon absorption can lead to emission of radiation having a shorter wavelength than the absorbed radiation. The emitted radiation may also be of the same wavelength as the absorbed radiation, termed "resonance fluorescence".
The most striking examples of fluorescence occur when the absorbed radiation is in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum, and thus invisible to the human eye, and the emitted light is in the visible region.
Fluorescence has many practical applications, including mineralogy, gemology, chemical sensors (fluorescence spectroscopy), fluorescent labelling, dyes, biological detectors, and, most commonly, fluorescent lamps.
An early observation of fluorescence was described in 1560 by Bernardino de Sahagún and in 1565 by Nicolás Monardes in the infusion known as lignum nephriticum (Latin for "kidney wood"). It was derived from the wood of two tree species, Pterocarpus indicus and Eysenhardtia polystachya. The chemical compound responsible for this fluorescence is matlaline, which is the oxidation product of one of the flavonoids found in this wood.
In 1819 Edward D. Clarke and in 1822 René Just Haüy described fluorescence in fluorites, Sir David Brewster described the phenomenon for chlorophyll in 1833 and Sir John Herschel did the same for quinine in 1845.
In his 1852 paper on the "Refrangibility" (wavelength change) of light, George Gabriel Stokes described the ability of fluorspar and uranium glass to change invisible light beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum into blue light. He named this phenomenon fluorescence : "I am almost inclined to coin a word, and call the appearance fluorescence, from fluor-spar [i.e., fluorite], as the analogous term opalescence is derived from the name of a mineral." The name was derived from the mineral fluorite (calcium difluoride), some examples of which contain traces of divalent europium, which serves as the fluorescent activator to emit blue light. In a key experiment he used a prism to isolate ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and observed blue light emitted by an ethanol solution of quinine exposed by it.
Physical principles 
Fluorescence occurs when an orbital electron of a molecule, atom or nanostructure relaxes to its ground state by emitting a photon of light after being excited to a higher quantum state by some type of energy:
State S0 is called the ground state of the fluorophore (fluorescent molecule) and S1 is its first (electronically) excited state.
A molecule, S1, can relax by various competing pathways. It can undergo 'non-radiative relaxation' in which the excitation energy is dissipated as heat (vibrations) to the solvent. Excited organic molecules can also relax via conversion to a triplet state, which may subsequently relax via phosphorescence or by a secondary non-radiative relaxation step.
Relaxation of an S1 state can also occur through interaction with a second molecule through fluorescence quenching. Molecular oxygen (O2) is an extremely efficient quencher of fluorescence just because of its unusual triplet ground state.
Molecules that are excited through light absorption or via a different process (e.g. as the product of a reaction) can transfer energy to a second 'sensitized' molecule, which is converted to its excited state and can then fluoresce. This process is used in lightsticks to produce different colors.
Quantum yield 
The maximum fluorescence quantum yield is 1.0 (100%); every photon absorbed results in a photon emitted. Compounds with quantum yields of 0.10 are still considered quite fluorescent. Another way to define the quantum yield of fluorescence, is by the rate of excited state decay:
where is the rate of spontaneous emission of radiation and
is the sum of all rates of excited state decay. Other rates of excited state decay are caused by mechanisms other than photon emission and are, therefore, often called "non-radiative rates", which can include: dynamic collisional quenching, near-field dipole-dipole interaction (or resonance energy transfer), internal conversion, and intersystem crossing. Thus, if the rate of any pathway changes, both the excited state lifetime and the fluorescence quantum yield will be affected.
The fluorescence lifetime refers to the average time the molecule stays in its excited state before emitting a photon. Fluorescence typically follows first-order kinetics:
where is the concentration of excited state molecules at time , is the initial concentration and is the decay rate or the inverse of the fluorescence lifetime. This is an instance of exponential decay. Various radiative and non-radiative processes can de-populate the excited state. In such case the total decay rate is the sum over all rates:
where is the total decay rate, the radiative decay rate and the non-radiative decay rate. It is similar to a first-order chemical reaction in which the first-order rate constant is the sum of all of the rates (a parallel kinetic model). If the rate of spontaneous emission, or any of the other rates are fast, the lifetime is short. For commonly used fluorescent compounds, typical excited state decay times for photon emissions with energies from the UV to near infrared are within the range of 0.5 to 20 nanoseconds. The fluorescence lifetime is an important parameter for practical applications of fluorescence such as fluorescence resonance energy transfer and Fluorescence-lifetime imaging microscopy.
Jablonski diagram 
The Jablonski diagram describes most of the relaxation mechanisms for excited state molecules. The diagram alongside shows how fluorescence occurs due to the relaxation of certain excited electrons of a molecule.
Fluorescence anisotropy 
Fluorophores are more likely to be excited by photons if the transition moment of the fluorophore is parallel to the electric vector of the photon. The polarization of the emitted light will also depend on the transition moment. The transition moment is dependent on the physical orientation of the fluorophore molecule. For fluorophores in solution this means that the intensity and polarization of the emitted light is dependent on rotational diffusion. Therefore, anisotropy measurements can be used to investigate how freely a fluorescent molecule moves in a particular environment.
Fluorescence anisotropy can be defined quantitatively as
where is the emitted intensity parallel to polarization of the excitation light and is the emitted intensity perpendicular to the polarization of the excitation light.
There are several general rules that deal with fluorescence. Each of the following rules has exceptions but they are useful guidelines for understanding fluorescence. (These rules do not necessarily apply to Two-photon absorption.)
Kasha-Vavilov rule 
The Kasha–Vavilov rule dictates that the quantum yield of luminescence is independent of the wavelength of exciting radiation. This occurs because excited molecules usually decay to the lowest vibrational level of the excited state before fluorescence emission takes place. The Kasha-Vavilov rule does not always apply and is violated severely in many simple molecules. A somewhat more reliable statement, although still with exceptions, would be that the fluorescence spectrum shows very little dependence on the wavelength of exciting radiation.
Mirror image rule 
For many fluorophores the absorption spectrum is a mirror image of the emission spectrum. This is known as the mirror image rule and is related to the Franck–Condon principle which states that electronic transitions are vertical, that is energy changes without distance changing as can be represented with a vertical line in Jablonski diagram. This means the nucleus does not move and the vibration levels of the excited state resemble the vibration levels of the ground state.
Stokes shift 
In general, emitted fluorescent light has a longer wavelength and lower energy than the absorbed light. This phenomenon, known as Stokes shift, is due to energy loss between the time a photon is absorbed and when it is emitted. The causes and magnitude of Stokes shift can be complex and are dependent on the fluorophore and its environment. However, there are some common causes. It is frequently due to non-radiative decay to the lowest vibrational energy level of the excited state. Another factor is that the emission of fluorescence frequently leaves a fluorophore in the highest vibrational level of the ground state.
Fluorescence in nature 
There are many natural compounds that exhibit fluorescence, and they have a number of applications. Some deep-sea animals, such as the greeneye, use fluorescence.
Gemology, mineralogy, and geology 
Many types of calcite and amber will fluoresce under shortwave UV. Rubies, emeralds, and the Hope Diamond exhibit red fluorescence under short-wave UV light; diamonds also emit light under X ray radiation.
Fluorescence in minerals is caused by a wide range of activators. In some cases, the concentration of the activator must be restricted to below a certain level, to prevent quenching of the fluorescent emission. Furthermore, certain impurities such as iron or copper need to be absent, to prevent quenching of possible fluorescence. Divalent manganese, in concentrations of up to several percent, is responsible for the red or orange fluorescence of calcite, the green fluorescence of willemite, the yellow fluorescence of esperite, and the orange fluorescence of wollastonite and clinohedrite. Hexavalent uranium, in the form of the uranyl cation, fluoresces at all concentrations in a yellow green, and is the cause of fluorescence of minerals such as autunite or andersonite, and, at low concentration, is the cause of the fluorescence of such materials as some samples of hyalite opal. Trivalent chromium at low concentration is the source of the red fluorescence of ruby. Divalent europium is the source of the blue fluorescence, when seen in the mineral fluorite. Trivalent lanthanides such as terbium and dysprosium are the principal activators of the creamy yellow fluorescence exhibited by the yttrofluorite variety of the mineral fluorite, and contribute to the orange fluorescence of zircon. Powellite (calcium molybdate) and scheelite (calcium tungstate) fluoresce intrinsically in yellow and blue, respectively. When present together in solid solution, energy is transferred from the higher-energy tungsten to the lower-energy molybdenum, such that fairly low levels of molybdenum are sufficient to cause a yellow emission for scheelite, instead of blue. Low-iron sphalerite (zinc sulfide), fluoresces and phosphoresces in a range of colors, influenced by the presence of various trace impurities.
Crude oil (petroleum) fluoresces in a range of colors, from dull-brown for heavy oils and tars through to bright-yellowish and bluish-white for very light oils and condensates. This phenomenon is used in oil exploration drilling to identify very small amounts of oil in drill cuttings and core samples.
Organic liquids 
Organic solutions such anthracene or stilbene, dissolved in benzene or toluene, fluoresce with ultraviolet or gamma ray irradiation. The decay times of this fluorescence are of the order of nanoseconds, since the duration of the light depends on the lifetime of the excited states of the fluorescent material, in this case anthracene or stilbene.
Common materials that fluoresce 
Applications of fluorescence 
The common fluorescent lamp relies on fluorescence. Inside the glass tube is a partial vacuum and a small amount of mercury. An electric discharge in the tube causes the mercury atoms to emit ultraviolet light. The tube is lined with a coating of a fluorescent material, called the phosphor, which absorbs the ultraviolet and re-emits visible light. Fluorescent lighting is more energy-efficient than incandescent lighting elements. However, the uneven spectrum of traditional fluorescent lamps may cause certain colors to appear different than when illuminated by incandescent light or daylight. The mercury vapor emission spectrum is dominated by a short-wave UV line at 254 nm (which provides most of the energy to the phosphors), accompanied by visible light emission at 436 nm (blue), 546 nm (green) and 579 nm (yellow-orange). These three lines can be observed superimposed on the white continuum using a hand spectroscope, for light emitted by the usual white fluorescent tubes. These same visible lines, accompanied by the emission lines of trivalent europium and trivalent terbium, and further accompanied by the emission continuum of divalent europium in the blue region, comprise the more discontinuous light emission of the modern trichromatic phosphor systems used in many compact fluorescent lamp and traditional lamps where better color rendition is a goal.
Fluorescent lights were first available to the public at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Improvements since then have largely been better phosphors, longer life, and more consistent internal discharge, and easier-to-use shapes (such as compact fluorescent lamps). Some high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps couple their even-greater electrical efficiency with phosphor enhancement for better color rendition.
White light-emitting diodes (LEDs) became available in the mid-1990s as LED lamps, in which blue light emitted from the semiconductor strikes phosphors deposited on the tiny chip. The combination of the blue light that continues through the phosphor and the green to red fluorescence from the phosphors produces a net emission of white light.
Analytical chemistry 
Many analytical procedures involve the use of a fluorometer, usually with a single exciting wavelength and single detection wavelength. Because of the sensitivity that the method affords, fluorescent molecule concentrations as low as 1 part per trillion can be measured.
Fluorescence in several wavelengths can be detected by an array detector, to detect compounds from HPLC flow. Also, TLC plates can be visualized if the compounds or a coloring reagent is fluorescent. Fluorescence is most effective when there is a larger ratio of atoms at lower energy levels in a Boltzmann distribution. There is, then, a higher probability of excitement and release of photons by lower-energy atoms, making analysis more efficient.
Usually the setup of a fluorescence assay involves a light source, which may emit many different wavelengths of light. In general, a single wavelength is required for proper analysis, so, in order to selectively filter the light, it is passed through an excitation monochromator, and then that chosen wavelength is passed through the sample cell. After absorption and re-emission of the energy, many wavelengths may emerge due to Stokes shift and various electron transitions. To separate and analyze them, the fluorescent radiation is passed through an emission monochromator, and observed selectively by a detector.
Biochemistry and medicine 
Fluorescence in the life sciences is used generally as a non-destructive way of tracking or analysis of biological molecules by means of the fluorescent emission at a specific frequency where there is no background from the excitation light, as relatively few cellular components are naturally fluorescent (called intrinsic or autofluorescence). In fact, a protein or other component can be "labelled" with an extrinsic fluorophore, a fluorescent dye that can be a small molecule, protein, or quantum dot, finding a large use in many biological applications.
The quantification of a dye is done with a spectrofluorometer and finds additional applications in:
- When scanning the fluorescent intensity across a plane one has fluorescence microscopy of tissues, cells, or subcellular structures, which is accomplished by labeling an antibody with a fluorophore and allowing the antibody to find its target antigen within the sample. Labelling multiple antibodies with different fluorophores allows visualization of multiple targets within a single image (multiple channels). DNA microarrays are a variant of this.
- Immunology: An antibody is first prepared by having a fluorescent chemical group attached, and the sites (e.g., on a microscopic specimen) where the antibody has bound can be seen, and even quantified, by the fluorescence.
- FLIM (Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy) can be used to detect certain bio-molecular interactions that manifest themselves by influencing fluorescence lifetimes.
- Cell and molecular biology: detection of colocalization using fluorescence-labelled antibodies for selective detection of the antigens of interest using specialized software, such as CoLocalizer Pro.
Other techniques 
- FRET (Fluorescence resonance energy transfer or Förster resonance energy transfer) is used to study protein interactions, detect specific nucleic acid sequences and used as biosensors, while fluorescence lifetime (FLIM) can give an additional layer of information.
- Biotechnology: biosensors using fluorescence are being studied as possible Fluorescent glucose biosensors.
- Automated sequencing of DNA by the chain termination method; each of four different chain terminating bases has its own specific fluorescent tag. As the labelled DNA molecules are separated, the fluorescent label is excited by a UV source, and the identity of the base terminating the molecule is identified by the wavelength of the emitted light.
- FACS (fluorescence-activated cell sorting). One of several important cell sorting techniques used in the separation of different cell lines (especially those isolated from animal tissues).
- DNA detection: the compound ethidium bromide, in aqueous solution, has very little fluorescence, as it is quenched by water. Ethidium bromide's fluorescence is greatly enhanced after it binds to DNA, so this compound is very useful in visualising the location of DNA fragments in agarose gel electrophoresis. Intercalated ethidium is in a hydrophobic environment when it is between the base pairs of the DNA, protected from quenching by water which is excluded from the local environment of the intercalated ethidium. Ethidium bromide may be carcinogenic – an arguably safer alternative is the dye SYBR Green.
- FIGS (Fluorescence image-guided surgery) is a medical imaging technique that uses fluorescence to detect properly labeled structures during surgery.
Fingerprints can be visualized with fluorescent compounds such as ninhydrin. Blood and other substances are sometimes detected by fluorescent reagents, like fluorescein. Fibers, and other materials that may be encountered in forensics or with a relationship to various collectibles, are sometimes fluorescent.
See also 
- Absorption-re-emission atomic line filters use the phenomenon of fluorescence to filter light extremely effectively.
- Black light
- Blacklight paint
- Evos microscope
- Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy
- Fluorescence image-guided surgery
- Fluorescence in plants
- Fluorescence spectroscopy
- Fluorescent lamp
- Fluorescent multilayer card
- Fluorescent Multilayer Disc
- High-visibility clothing
- Laser-induced fluorescence
- List of light sources
- Mössbauer effect, resonant fluorescence of gamma rays
- Organic light-emitting diodes can be fluorescent
- Phosphor thermometry, the use of phosphorescence to measure temperature.
- Two-photon absorption
- Vibronic spectroscopy
- X-ray fluorescence
- Principles Of Instrumental Analysis F.James Holler, Douglas A. Skoog & Stanley R. Crouch 2006
- Acuña, A. Ulises; Amat-Guerri, Francisco; Morcillo, Purificación; Liras, Marta; Rodríguez, Benjamín (2009). "Structure and Formation of the Fluorescent Compound of Lignum nephriticum". Organic Letters 11 (14): 3020–3023. doi:10.1021/ol901022g. PMID 19586062. Available on-line at: Chinese Academy of Science.
- Safford, William Edwin (1916). "Lignum nephriticum". Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: Government Printing Office. p. 271–298.
- Valeur, B.; Berberan-Santos, M. R. N. (2011). "A Brief History of Fluorescence and Phosphorescence before the Emergence of Quantum Theory". Journal of Chemical Education 88 (6): 731. doi:10.1021/ed100182h.
- "The Fluorescence of Lignum nephriticum: A Flash Back to the Past and a Simple Demonstration of Natural Substance Fluorescence".
- Edward Daniel Clarke (1819) "Account of a newly discovered variety of green fluor spar, of very uncommon beauty, and with remarkable properties of colour and phosphorescence," The Annals of Philosophy, 14 : 34 - 36; from page 35: "The finer crystals are perfectly transparent. Their colour by transmitted light is an intense emerald green; but by reflected light, the colour is a deep sapphire blue; … ".
- Haüy merely repeats Clarke's observation regarding the colors of the specimen of fluorite which he (Clarke) had examined: Haüy, Traité de Minéralogie, 2nd ed. (Paris, France: Bachelier and Huzard, 1822), vol. 1, page 512. Fluorite is called "chaux fluatée" by Haüy. From page 512: "... violette par réflection, et verdâtre par transparence au Derbyshire." ([the color of fluorite is] violet by reflection, and greenish by transmission in [specimens from] Derbyshire.)
- David Brewster (1834) "On the colours of natural bodies," Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 12 : 538-545; on page 542, Brewster mentions that when white light passes through an alcoholic solution of chlorophyll, red light is reflected from it.
- Herschel, John (1845a) "On a case of superficial colour presented by a homogeneous liquid internally colourless," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 135 : 143-145; see page 145.
- Herschel, John (1845b) "On the epipŏlic dispersion of light, being a supplement to a paper entitled, "On a case of superficial colour presented by a homogeneous liquid internally colourless" ," Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 135 : 147-153.
- Stokes, G. G. (1852). "On the Change of Refrangibility of Light". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 142: 463–562. doi:10.1098/rstl.1852.0022. From page 479, footnote: "I am almost inclined to coin a word, and call the appearance fluorescence, from fluor-spar, as the analogous term opalescence is derived from the name of a mineral."
- Stokes (1852), pages 472-473. In a footnote on page 473, Stokes acknowledges that in 1843, Edmond Becquerel had observed that quinine acid sulfate strongly absorbs ultraviolet radiation (i.e., solar radiation beyond Fraunhofer's H band in the solar spectrum). See: Edmond Becquerel (1843) "Des effets produits sur les corps par les rayons solaires" (On the effects produced on substances by solar rays), Comptes rendus, 17 : 882-884; on page 883, Becquerel cites quinine acid sulfate ("sulfate acide de quinine") as strongly absorbing ultraviolet light.
- Animation for the principle of fluorescence and UV-visible absorbance
- Lakowicz, Joseph R. Principles of Fluorescence Spectroscopy(second edition). Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers, 1999 p. 10
- Valeur, Bernard, Berberan-Santos, Mario 2012. Molecular Fluorescence: Principles and Applications 2nd ed., Wiley-VCH, p. 64
- Lakowicz, J. R. (1999). Principles of Fluorescence Spectroscopy. Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers pp 12-13
- Valeur, Bernard, Berberan-Santos, Mario 2012. Molecular Fluorescence: Principles and Applications 2nd ed., Wiley-VCH, p.186
- IUPAC. Kasha–Vavilov rule – Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book"). Compiled by McNaught, A.D. and Wilkinson, A. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1997.
- Lakowicz, J. R. (1999). Principles of Fluorescence Spectroscopy. Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers pp 6–8
- Lakowicz, J. R. (1999). Principles of Fluorescence Spectroscopy. Kluwer Academic / Plenum Publishers pp 6–7
- Harris, Tom. "How Fluorescent Lamps Work". HowStuffWorks. Discovery Communications. Retrieved 27 June 2010.
- "Fluorometric Assay Using Dimeric Dyes for Double- and Single-Stranded DNA and RNA with Picogram Sensitivity"; H.S. Rye, J.M. Dabora, M.A. Quesada, R.A. Mathies, A.N. Glazer, Analytical Biochemistry, Volume 208, Issue 1, January 1993, Pages 144–150, http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/abio.1993.1020
- Daniel C. Harris (May 2004). Exploring chemical analysis. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-7167-0571-0. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- Joseph R. Lakowicz (2006). Principles of fluorescence spectroscopy. Springer. p. xxvi. ISBN 978-0-387-31278-1. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- Fluorophores.org, the database of fluorescent dyes
- FSU.edu, Basic Concepts in Fluorescence
- "A nano-history of fluorescence" lecture by David Jameson
- Excitation and emission spectra of various fluorescent dyes
- Database of fluorescent minerals with pictures, activators and spectra (fluomin.org)