What Processes take place in the Flame during Atomic Absorption Analysis?

Most of you would have observed the changes in colour of the Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy flame on aspiration of sample into it and wondered as to what processes lead to such changes.


AAS Flame with Blank Introduction


AAS Flame with Sample Introduction

A brief introduction to the phenomena has been made in the article Air or Nitrous oxide – which is the right oxidant gas for flame Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy analysis. The present article discusses the processes in further detail. However, before understanding these processes it is important to have an understanding of the Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy flame structure.

Flame Structure

The appearance and relative sizes of the three zones depend on choice of fuels and oxidants and also on their respective proportions.

AAS combudion diagram

Zones of Flame

Primary combustion zone is close to burner tip and has a blue luminiscence. It contains non-atomised molecules and fuel species such as C_2 and CH

Inter zonal region is rich in free atoms and is the preferred region for  Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy analysis. It is also the hottest zone of the flame.

Secondary combustion zone is the outer zone. It is rich in reformed species as temperatures are lower than in the core.

As temperature within the flame varies the signal sensitivity also depends on flame height. Flame height adjustment helps isolation of best absorption intensity signals. Further as the burner slot is of a linear design rotation of burner had also helps in signal intensity adjustments.

Flame Processes

The liquid sample enters the flame as fine droplets after nebulization in the spray chamber. Due to the high temperature the solvent evaporates and leaves solid salts or crystals behind. The solid particles melt and molecular vapour is formed. In the higher temperature region thermal dissociation of molecular vapour takes place and a mix of ground state and ionized atoms results. The ground state atoms are responsible for absorption of characteristic light wavelengths reaching from the light source. The entire sequence is completed in about 10-3 sec (residence time of sample in flame).

Flow Diagram

Flame Processes

Majority of elements are analyzed using air – acetylene flames having temperatures in the range of 2150°C – 2300°C. However, hotter flame temperatures of 2600°C – 2800°C using nitrous oxide-acetylene combination are required for analysis of refractory elements which form stable oxides which do not decompose at the air-acetylene flame temperatures.

Hope you found the article informative and interesting. We shall be obliged if you offer your valued comments.

About Dr. Deepak Bhanot

Dr Deepak Bhanot is a seasoned professional having nearly 30 years expertise beginning from sales and product support of analytical instruments. After completing his graduation and post graduation from Delhi University and IIT Delhi he went on to Loughborough University of Technology, UK for doctorate research in analytical chemistry. His mission is to develop training programs on analytical techniques and share his experiences with broad spectrum of users ranging from professionals engaged in analytical development and research as well as young enthusiasts fresh from academics who wish to embark upon a career in analytical industry.


  1. Dr. Manju D. Tanwar says:

    Doc It is really a very nice information regarding flame process.

  2. Deepak Rawlani says:

    Thanks Doctor for the Introduction on AAS basics. Would appreciate if you could throw some light on repeatability of results with the variation of integration times. Regards

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