How Does a Flame Photometer Work?

Flame photometers work by separating a chemical sample into its constituent atoms and molecules and then analyzing the colors emitted by the chemicals as they absorb and then release energy. Flame photometers are most commonly used in inorganic chemistry as a way of detecting and identifying the compounds present in metal salts.

Some of the common chemicals flame photometers detect include sodium, potassium, lithium, calcium and barium. Flame photometers use a flame that combines natural gas and oxygen. Because flame photometers use a relatively low-temperature flame, they are only suitable for investigating substances that ionize easily. Flame photometers excel at detecting and investigating earth alkali metals.

Flame photometers have a wide variety of applications and are used in clinical, laboratory and environmental settings. Sample purity is an important aspect of using a flame photometer. Typically, laboratory workers calibrate flame photometers before beginning the analysis of a chemical sample. To do so, workers use a series of chemicals called “standard solutions,” for which the proper results are already known. By testing these standard solutions, the laboratory worker can make fine adjustments to the device to ensure that the test results are valid. Many college chemistry courses educate students in the use of flame photometers.