Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, the emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation. The most striking examples of fluorescence occur when the absorbed radiation is in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum, and thus invisible to the human eye, and the emitted light is in the visible region.
Fluorescence has many practical applications, including mineralogy, gemology, chemical sensors (fluorescence spectroscopy), fluorescent labelling, dyes, biological detectors, cosmic-ray detection, and, most commonly, fluorescent lamps. Fluorescence also occurs frequently in nature in some minerals and in various biological states in many branches of the animal kingdom.
The fluorescence lifetime refers to the average time the molecule stays in its excited state before emitting a photon. Fluorescence typically follows first-order kinetics:
where is the concentration of excited state molecules at time , is the initial concentration and is the decay rate or the inverse of the fluorescence lifetime. This is an instance of exponential decay. Various radiative and non-radiative processes can de-populate the excited state. In such case the total decay rate is the sum over all rates:
where is the total decay rate, the radiative decay rate and the non-radiative decay rate. It is similar to a first-order chemical reaction in which the first-order rate constant is the sum of all of the rates (a parallel kinetic model). If the rate of spontaneous emission, or any of the other rates are fast, the lifetime is short. For commonly used fluorescent compounds, typical excited state decay times for photon emissions with energies from the UV to near infrared are within the range of 0.5 to 20 nanoseconds. The fluorescence lifetime is an important parameter for practical applications of fluorescence such as fluorescence resonance energy transfer and Fluorescence-lifetime imaging microscopy.