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Supernova Chemistry Teacher Notes


  1. Students do not have to have an intimate knowledge of quantum mechanics to understand the basic principles of spectroscopy. Basically, they need to understand that every type of atom has a unique electron configuration, that the position of an electron affects how much energy it has, and that this causes different substances to interact with light in different ways. An understanding of the Bohr model of the atom should suffice. Make sure that they understand the incredible number of ways that spectroscopy is used: X-ray spectroscopy, Atomic Emission spectroscopy, Infrared spectroscopy, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance imaging (NMR), and UV spectroscopy. Most of the components in the Hubble Space Telescope are related to spectroscopic analysis.
  2. There are ten (10) total stations, so groups should be assigned appropriately.
  3. Students will have 4 minutes per station if the data collection is completed in one day. If more time is needed, two days for data collection can be allowed.
  4. The chemical light sticks will need to be changed when they begin to grow dim.
  5. Remember that about 1 out of 5 boys experience some degree of color-blindness. Usually, they should be able to see the bright lines, but they might misinterpret the color or think it's "white" light. Each pair of students should double-check each other, and avoid boy-boy pairs as much as possible. Many boys are unaware by this age that they may have a problem with particular colors, so be sensitive to the fact that some may "discover" their color-blindness during this activity.


  1. Caution students strongly about the need to avoid touching the gas tubes or the electrical power units. There is a very real chance that they could be burned or electrocuted if they directly touch the tubes. Make sure that the units are plugged into the GFI outlets.
  2. Students need to keep safety glasses on throughout the activity. The gas tubes get very hot, and they can burst. Use a fluorescent light strip in the lab or an adjacent area as the fluorescent source.
  3. For each pair or group, let one student observe the spectrum through the Spectrometer and call out the "bright line" wavelengths to their partner. The partner should double-check the line positions, and then the two of them should agree before they use the colored pencils to shade in the areas of their spectrum. They should change stations every 4 minutes in order to complete the activity in a period.
  4. Some of the tubes will produce just line spectra, but most will have some degree of at least one part of the continual spectrum. This is because of the limited resolution of the diffraction grating used in the Spectrometers.


  1. Talk to students about the many different ways in which spectroscopy is used by modern scientists. Spectrometers of various forms represent the most important single group of lab instruments in the research lab today.
  2. Allow students to compare their spectra for different tubes with other groups, and encourage them to discuss the differences and similarities. Ask students to draw relationships between what they said about light after the engagement activity and what they discovered about light during the laboratory activity.

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