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Fluorescence Spectroscopy

Fluorescence spectroscopy measures the intensity of photons emitted from a sample after it has absorbed photons. Most fluorescent molecules are aromatic. Fluorescence is an important investigational tool in many areas of analytical science, due to its high sensitivity and selectivity. It can be used to investigate real-time structure and dynamics both in solution state and under microscopes, particularly for bio-molecular systems.

cogsHow does it work?

Fluorescence occurs when a fluorescent capable material (a fluorophore) is excited into a higher electronic state by absorbing an incident photon and cannot return to the ground state except by emitting a photon. The emission usually occurs from the ground vibrational level of the excited electronic state and goes to an excited vibrational state of the ground electronic state. Thus fluorescence signals occur at longer wavelengths than absorbance. The energies and relative intensities of the fluorescence signals give information about structure and environments of the fluorophores.

The component parts necessary within a typical Fluorescence Spectrometer (Spectrofluorometer) are a sample holder, incident photon source (typically a xenon lamp), monochromators used for selecting particular incident wavelengths, focussing optics, photon-collecting detector (single, or preferably multiple channel) and finally a control software unit. An emission monochromator or cut-off filters are also usually employed. The detector is usually set at 90 degrees to the light source. The intrinsic sensitivity of fluorescence is also its biggest problem and care must be taken to record a true fluorescence signal of the analyte of interest.

A fluorescence emission spectrum is recorded when the excitation wavelength of light is held constant and the emission beam is scanned as a function of wavelength. An excitation spectrum is the opposite, whereby the emission light is held at a constant wavelength, and the excitation light is scanned as a function of wavelength. The excitation spectrum usually resembles the absorbance spectrum in shape.

Most materials are not naturally fluorescent. However, useful data, particularly in fluorescence microscopy can be obtained by staining non-fluorophores with an active label.


Changes in fluorescence intensity can be used to probe structural changes or binding of two molecules. The wavelength of tryptophan fluorescence can be used to determine whether a tryptophan is in an aqueous environment (longer wavelength) or buried deep within the protein (shorter wavelength). Fluorescence polarization anisotropy allows mobility of fluorophores to be studies.

Sample handling requirements:

Samples must typically have an absorbance of less than 0.1 at the excitation wavelength to avoid inner filter effects.

Complementary techniques:

Absorbance, CD, LD, Confocal Microscopy
Warwick Capability:

Warwick Capability:

FP-6500 Research Fluorescence Spectrometer


Dr Ian Hancox, 024 76 150380 email i dot hancox at warwick dot ac dot uk

Jasco FP-6500

Typical results format, and sample:

Fluorescent Microscopy

green_tick.gif Warwick collect/analyse data
green_tick.gif Warwick collect data
 green_tick.gif Available to user with expertise/ contribution
 green_tick.gif Spare capacity for collaborative research