Optics 101

Chemiluminescence - Definition and Applications

Chemiluminescence is the process of generating electromagnetic radiation by releasing energy as a result of a chemical reaction. The light can be emitted in the infrared, visible, or ultraviolet regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Chemiluminescent reactions are generally categorized into three major types:

  • Light-emitting reactions, which occur with the help of electrical current
  • Bioluminescent reactions that take place in living organisms, such as the jellyfish or firefly
  • Chemical reactions, which use synthetic compounds and involve highly oxidized species, commonly termed as chemiluminescent reactions

Basic Principle

Chemiluminescence reactions generally involve the breaking up of the oxygen-oxygen bond in organic peroxide compounds. These compounds are responsible for the light emitting reactions, due to the cleavage of the relatively weak peroxide bond. Thus, a large amount of energy is produced as a result of molecular re-organization.

The following are the conditions necessary for the chemiluminescence reactions to take place:

  • Sufficient amount of energy is required to produce the excited state molecule
  • The reaction pathway must be favorable for the formation of an excited product
  • The excited state molecule should have an ability to transfer the energy to another molecule


Chemiluminescence principle is applied in the following:

  • Analysis of organic and inorganic species
  • Assay of biomolecules in systems
  • Combustion and gas analysis
  • DNA sequencing
  • Protein and nucleic acid blotting


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