Fun with fluorescence


Above: Fluorescent minerals via Wikimedia Commons

If you enjoyed the astonishing fluorescent landscapes in Avatar (or plan to soon), I compiled a few lovely videos of fluorescent phenomena from right here on Earth.

V 115 fluorescence of various materials 1 - Fluoreszenz (via Netexperimente)

Bill's Fluorescent Rock and Mineral Collection (via Philovideo) - start at 5:30

Fluorescent rock display (cute off-camera kid responses) via mrluckyuncle

Filling glass lab flasks with fluorescing compounds (via ChemToddler)


  1. I seem to remember that the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) used to have a terrific fluorescent mineral display in the basement of its old Washington Park location. It was always fun going down into that dark dungeon to see this, as well as the somewhat creepy transparent woman show.

  2. I still have a plan to soak the felt contents of a highlighter in water until the water glows under blacklight, then go to a blacklight-intensive nightclub and drink it.

    Would be even more awesome if I tossed a few pieces of dry ice into the glass first. ;) (and drank it carefully, so as to not let the ice touch my lips, because that would be fairly horrible)

    1. Tonic water glows under UV light – this might be less toxic. It may also help any malaria you may or may not have.

  3. The Science Museum at the Quadrangle in Springfield, MA has a nice collection of fluorescent minerals.

    (Also, a chunk of the Giant’s Causeway that my Northern Irish wife keeps threatening to reclaim.)

  4. most of the glowy things in avatar looked like they were meant to be bioluminescent, as seen in a lot of really rad earthly plants and animals. what i mean is, where are all the vids of willlld light-emitting squid, corals, mushrooms, centipedes, et al. not to hate, but all way cooler than some stuff in a jar, if you ask me!

  5. One of my fondest memories of childhood is of visiting the Herkimer diamond mine in NY in the late 80s. I can tell you nearly nothing of the relatively boring time spent banging apart rocks to find “diamonds” (actually just quartz) that hot summer day, but I do remember visiting the little shop/museum next to the mine vividly. I remember going up into the attic or second level of the shop to this small, dusty old museum. It was oppressively hot and we went into a small dark room with some boring, drab looking rocks on display, turned off the lights, turned on a UV light and the most unbelievable, gorgeous, resplendent, rich, saturated colors spanning the entire spectrum spewed forth from the collection of rocks and minerals. To a geeky, science obsessed child just beginning to understand his own partial color-blindness, the display was absolutely stupefying. That this beautiful, hidden world of color could be unmasked by using a form of light that itself was invisible, wow! Magic! I shall never forget it.

    Pictures of this phenomenon never do it justice, you need to see it in person, the fluorescence seems to emanate from within the minerals in a way that mere reflected light cannot compare. From the few pics of the Herkimer museum that exist on Flickr, it looks as if nothing has changed there. Maybe I’ll visit again someday.

  6. Just to be a bit pedantic, but much of the glow you see in the movie “Avatar” is likely luminescence or phosphorescence, not fluorescence.

  7. Someone needs to develop fluorescent food additives. Black lights played a big part in our Halloween party this year (er, last year) and I thought creating a bunch of fluorescent food would be a snap. Short of quinine water (tonic water) which glows blue-white and riboflavin (the breakfast cereal vitamin) which glows yellow, I came up short. Oh well, at least my guests got their vitamin B for the year…

    1. I believe there are several varieties of cheese that fluoresce- check out Parmesan and other hard dry cheeses.

      A search on medline will help find more food candidates besides quinine.

  8. The San Francisco Academy of Sciences used to have a fantastic exhibit of fluorescing minerals. Alas, the entire hall of geology seems to have been relegated to a darkened bookshelf tucked away in an unvisited corner of a small learning room on the second floor. Visiting the new SF Academy was such a bitter disappointment that I doubt I’ll ever go back. Academy of science? Pffftttt. I still don’t know what they did with all of their stuff during the remodel cause it sure ain’t in the building.

  9. I have a modest collection of fluorescent minerals which can be seen on this page:

    The flash in my digital camera has a UV component so it activated some of the willemite samples from Franklin, NJ. The bottom two images use the actual shortwave UV illumination to activate the fluorescence.

    Most minerals that are fluorescent react under shortwave (UV-C) light with a wavelength of 254 nm (mercury vapor). The good lamps have a filter to block most of the visible purple light but pass through the UV. Over time these filters go bad and become “solarized”.

    Some minerals (e.g. scapolite/wernerite, semiopal, calcedony, etc.) and other materials react to longwave UV (UV-A) such as that emitted by a “blacklight” lamp used for posters and the like.

    Disneyland used to have a shop and free exhibit called Mineral Hall from about 1956 to 1961. As I understand it, you walked through a horseshoe hallway with displays of common materials which reacted to UV light, probably longwave in most cases. Descriptions are scarce in the historical record but there is one reference to a popular cigarette wrapper that reacted but I don’t know which brand it was.

    UV-C lamps with good filters are expensive and should be used with caution since it is possible to cause temporary or permanent damage to the retina. This is akin to a sunburn and it can feel like sand in your eyes for a day or two on the temporary variety. This is part of the reason why most fluorescent mineral displays are placed behind glass or Lexan plastic since these materials are good at blocking the UV light.

    There is, of course, a Fluorescent Mineral Society.

    James Keeline

  10. #4 Not entirely happy with eating highlighter pens. I’m looking for black-light ingredients for a range of cocktails but the only one I’ve found that works is quinine in tonic water. And there’s not many things that work with tonic except gin. Pastis+tonic might work. I also need to try Campari and Tonic.

    #17 Just tried parmesan but it didn’t fluoresce that I could see.

    1. As for ingesting fluorescent highlighter stuff, note that the yellow substance at the beginning of the top vid is called “Fluorescein”. It is a dye that I have been given in an IV when I have to have photos taken of the backs of my eyeballs. It’s a really cool idea, but the test is not too pleasant and I recently turned up allergic to it.

  11. Fluorescence is cool…amazing actually. And some fluorescent rocks also have another mysterious property: tenebrescence. Look it up and be amazed.

  12. In college, my girlfriend “decorated” my room with body prints on the walls with Woolite laundry detergent. Inspiring!

  13. Bet you had a bad time at school with a fluorescent scalp…on the other hand, you probably started a whole new ‘in’ group avatar! I just want to say this on a serious note… I don’t understand the biological purpose of fluoroscence as I’ve always thought all creatures would rather hide than advertise themselves (exception being most humans)

  14. Bet you had a bad time at school with a fluorescent scalp…on the other hand, you probably started a whole new ‘in’ group avatar! I just want to say this on a serious note… I don’t understand the biological purpose of fluoroscence as I’ve always thought all creatures would rather hide than advertise themselves (exception being most humans)

  15. If you look at your teeth under uv, you may notice any caps or false teeth don’t luminess. Whoever invents false teeth enamels didn’t take that part of the spectrum into consideration.

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