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Infrared Spectroscopy

In 1903 W.W Coblentz laid the real groundwork for IR, investigating spectra of
hundreds of substances, both organic and inorganic. The end result of this work
was the recognition that each compound had unique IR spectra, and that certain
groups, even when they were in different molecules, gave absorption bands that
were found at approximately the same wavelength.
Finally, the use of infrared spectroscopy began in 1950s by Wilbur Kaye. He had
designed a machine that tested the near-infrared spectrum and provided the
theory to describe the results.

What is it used for?

The main use of this technique is in organic and inorganic chemistry. It is used by
chemists to determine functional groups in molecules.
Qualitative analysis (e.g. Organic/inorganic molecules, polymers)
Quantitative analysis (e.g. Liquid samples)
Forensic analysis
Determining blood alcohol content
Analysis and identification of pigments in paintings

How does it work?

IR spectroscopy measures the vibrations of atoms, based on this it is possible to
determine the functional groups. Generally, stronger bonds and light atoms will
vibrate at a high stretching frequency.
Infrared radiation from a heat source is split into two beams.
One of the beams goes through the sample, and the other goes through a
reference chamber, ensuring that absorptions from water and carbon
dioxide in the air are cancelled out.
The beams are then sent along the same path, in separate alternating
pulses, achieved using a beam chopper (rotating disc with segment cut
out of it).
The beams are then analysed by passing them through a sample of
sodium chloride or potassium chloride (both invisible to IR radiation) or
through a diffraction grating.
Only light of one particular frequency is allowed to focus onto the detector
at one time.
The spectrum is achieved by scanning the frequencies and recording the
associated light intensities.
When the sample is not absorbing, there will be no difference between the
alternating pulses reaching the detector, so no signal is recorded.
When a vibration is being excited, the sample beam intensity will be
reduced and a signal generated.

The record of an IR spectrum seems to be upside down (the baseline is

at the top); however, it is transmittance that is being recorded and this
is at a maximum when no light is being absorbed.

Why does it work?

Infrared spectroscopy takes advantage of the vibrational energy changes

that occur in molecules when they are exposed to infrared radiation.
The bonds in simple diatomic molecules can only vibrate by stretching
For these molecules, only one infrared absorption. The energy corresponds
to the molecules changing from their lowest vibrational energy level, to
the next higher one.
The energy needed to excite a vibration is different for each molecule.
This is because this energy is related to the bond strength (weaker bonds
require less energy to vibrate than stronger ones.)
Thus, frequencies of infrared absorption differ for each molecule.

What does it look like?

The components of an IR machine are the:
- A source of infrared radiation
- A sample and a reference cell or disc made out of sodium chloride,
potassium bromide, or similar, glass and plastic cannot be used as they
absorb IR radiation and sop are opaque to IR radiation.
- A wavelength selector
- An infrared detector


Is able to analyse substances in solid, liquid, or gas form. In addition, it

can analyse semi-solids, and polymers.
The positions of the peaks on the IR spectra indicate the types of
intramolecular bonds present in the molecule.
IR spectroscopy is inexpensive, and provides accurate results (down to a
microgram). The process is relatively fast.
There is a large number of standard IR Spectra already published; to which
comparisons can be made.


Pure elements, and monoatomic ions, do not have IR spectra (i.e. cannot
be analysed) because it is not powerful enough to analyse the atom itself.
Only the bonds between atoms are analysed in molecules.
Homonuclear diatomic molecules (Two identical atoms that form a
molecule, such as 02, N2, or H2) do not possess IR spectra, therefore cannot
be analysed.
Due to the forces and bonds present in mixtures and aqueous solutions,
they are difficult to analyse.

Why use IR Spectroscopy?

Of all analytical techniques, IR Spectroscopy is the most efficient at

identifying and analysing functional groups
IR Spectroscopy is one of the most resource efficient analytical techniques.
In addition to its inexpensiveness, it does not cause damage to the sample
under analysis.
Rapid analysis of many polymers and molecules is possible through the
use of IR Spectroscopy, as it is widely used and has many published IR