Fluorescent minerals emit visible light when exposed to ultraviolet light.
Biofluorescent marine organisms
Willemite and calcite in UV light

Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, the emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation. The most striking example of fluorescence occurs when the absorbed radiation is in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum, and thus invisible to the human eye, while the emitted light is in the visible region, which gives the fluorescent substance a distinct color that can be seen only when exposed to UV light. Fluorescent materials cease to glow nearly immediately when the radiation source stops, unlike phosphorescent materials, which continue to emit light for some time after.

Fluorescence has many practical applications, including mineralogy, gemology, medicine, chemical sensors (fluorescence spectroscopy), fluorescent labelling, dyes, biological detectors, cosmic-ray detection, and, most commonly, fluorescent lamps. Fluorescence also occurs frequently in nature in some minerals and in various biological states in many branches of the animal kingdom.


Lignum nephriticum cup made from the wood of the narra tree (Pterocarpus indicus), and a flask containing its fluorescent solution
Matlaline, the fluorescent substance in the wood of the tree Eysenhardtia polystachya

An early observation of fluorescence was described in 1560 by Bernardino de Sahagún and in 1565 by Nicolás Monardes in the infusion known as lignum nephriticum (Latin for "kidney wood"). It was derived from the wood of two tree species, Pterocarpus indicus and Eysenhardtia polystachya.[1][2][3][4] The chemical compound responsible for this fluorescence is matlaline, which is the oxidation product of one of the flavonoids found in this wood.[1]

In 1819, Edward D. Clarke[5] and in 1822 René Just Haüy[6] described fluorescence in fluorites, Sir David Brewster described the phenomenon for chlorophyll in 1833[7] and Sir John Herschel did the same for quinine in 1845.[8][9]

In his 1852 paper on the "Refrangibility" (wavelength change) of light, George Gabriel Stokes described the ability of fluorspar and uranium glass to change invisible light beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum into blue light. He named this phenomenon fluorescence : "I am almost inclined to coin a word, and call the appearance fluorescence, from fluor-spar [i.e., fluorite], as the analogous term opalescence is derived from the name of a mineral."[10] The name was derived from the mineral fluorite (calcium difluoride), some examples of which contain traces of divalent europium, which serves as the fluorescent activator to emit blue light. In a key experiment he used a prism to isolate ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and observed blue light emitted by an ethanol solution of quinine exposed by it.[11]

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