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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

Table of Contents

Abstract Volume 21 (2016) pp 32-35

Analyzing Line Emission Spectra Viewed Through a Spectroscope Using a Smartphone

Eugene T. Smith*

Honors College-Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter, FL,
Received October 13, 2015. Accepted November 6, 2015.

Published: 22 January 2016

Abstract. For almost a half century, general chemistry curricula have included a laboratory exercise that involves using spectroscopes to view line emission spectra. Due to the variable optics of these devices, students typically need to calibrate the scope with a mercury lamp prior to any actual measurements. This task entails plotting, by hand or using a spreadsheet, the wavelength of the emission line as recorded off of the scope’s reference scale versus literature values. Subsequent wavelength measurements are then adjusted based on this calibration curve. The calibrated scope is then used to measure the wavelengths of hydrogen emission lines; students calculate the Rydberg constant, etc. We recently developed a smartphone application utilizing the camera to calibrate the spectroscope, and once calibrated, the application can then be used to take additional measurements on other emission lines. The application can be easily incorporated into existing laboratory exercises.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; general chemistry

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

Article in PDF format (162 KB) HTML format

Supporting Materials:

App-updates will be made available through Google Play [19] and iTunes [20], and instructions for obtaining the application and technology described above is provided by the author [19]. A student handout and an Excel template for calculating the Ryberg constant are supplied in the Supporting Material. (922 KB)


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