Atoms and light. Absorption and emission

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Want to learn more about the behavior of light at the atomic level?

The online atoms and light simulations on this page illustrate interactively how light acts at the atomic level.

Light at the atomic level is a complex phenomenon that can be understood as either a wave or a particle.

As a wave, light is an electromagnetic wave. Electromagnetic waves have a frequency and a wavelength that determine their energy and color. Visible light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes radio waves, microwaves, X-rays and gamma rays, among others.

As a particle, the study of light starts with photons, which are the elementary particles of light.

The absorption of light by an atom can cause an electron to jump to a higher energy level, while the emission of light by an atom occurs when an electron falls from a higher to a lower energy level and emits a photon. This process is known as electronic transition and is controlled by the laws of quantum mechanics.

Each electron jump produces a photon of specific energy, which determines the color of the light that is emitted. For example, when electrons in a hydrogen atom jump from energy level n=3 to energy level n=2, a photon of red light with a specific wavelength is emitted. If electrons jump from the n=2 level to the n=1 level, a photon of blue-green light with a different wavelength is emitted. This process is known as electronic transition and is controlled by the laws of quantum mechanics.

Neon lights and other discharge lamps


Produce light by bombarding atoms with electrons. See how the characteristic spectra of different elements are produced and configure the energy states of your own element to produce light of different colors.

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Absorption and emission of light


Electrons can change position by receiving energy (mainly light energy). The atom absorbs the incoming energy and returns it to its surroundings in the following order. Electrons that have risen to a high level drop back to their original position. At that time, they emit light energy.
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Quantum of light


Move the arrow and observe how the wavelength, energy and emitted photons change.
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