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Atomic fluorescence is the optical emission from gas-phase atoms that have been excited to higher energy levels by absorption of electromagnetic radiation. The main advantage of fluorescence detection compared to absorption measurements is the greater sensitivity achievable because the fluorescence signal has a very low background. The resonant excitation provides selective excitation of the analyte to avoid interferences. AFS is useful to study the electronic structure of atoms and to make quantitative measurements. Analytical applications include flames and plasmas diagnostics, and enhanced sensitivity in atomic analysis. Because of the differences in the nature of the energy-level structure between atoms and molecules, discussion of laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) from molecules is found in a separate document.
Analysis of solutions or solids requires that the analyte atoms be desolvated, vaporized, and atomized at a relatively low temperature in a heat pipe, flame, or graphite furnace. A hollow-cathode lamp or laser provides the resonant excitation to promote the atoms to higher energy levels. The atomic fluorescence is dispersed and detected by monochromators and photomultiplier tubes, similar to atomic-emission spectroscopy instrumentation.
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