fluorescence flo͝orĕs´əns [key], luminescence in which light of a visible color is emitted from a substance under stimulation or excitation by light or other forms of electromagnetic radiation or by certain other means. The light is given off only while the stimulation continues; in this the phenomenon differs from phosphorescence, in which light continues to be emitted after the excitation by other radiation has ceased. Fluorescence of certain rocks and other substances had been observed for hundreds of years before its nature was understood. Fluoresecence also occurs in some living organisms; some coral, reef fish, jellyfish, and other marine species as well as such terrestrial plants and animals as certain spiders and pitcher plants fluoresce. Probably the first to explain it was the British scientist Sir George G. Stokes, who named the phenomenon after fluorite, a strongly fluorescent mineral. Stokes is credited with the discovery (1852) that fluorescence can be induced in certain substances by stimulation with ultraviolet light. He formulated Stokes's law, which states that the wavelength of the fluorescent light is always greater than that of the exciting radiation, but exceptions to this law have been found. Later it was discovered that certain organic and inorganic substances can be made to fluoresce by activation not only with ultraviolet light but also with visible light, infrared radiation, X rays, radio waves, cathode rays, friction, heat, pressure, and some other excitants. Fluorescent substances, sometimes also known as phosphors, are used in paints and coatings, but their chief use is in fluorescent lighting.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Physics