Introduction to photochemistry, Chemistry tutorial


Today photochemistry has become one of the most influential research tools. Compounds of different molecules are occurred through numerous photochemical reactions as CO2, NH3 and methane. Other instances of photochemical reactions are formation of O3, smog, Vitamin D and many more. A new field in photochemistry said photobiology assists us to understand the mechanism of photosynthesis (procedure via that plants make their own food through the absorption of sunlight).

As well photochemistry assists us to form several typical compounds as Vitamin D, cubanes, and several cleaning agents that all are made via various chemical reactions of photochemistry. The arrangement of laser light is only possible through photochemistry. LASER stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiations. LASER have monochromatic rays by coherent radiations, such rays can be simply focused to a tiny point. Due to this property, LASER light is utilized for cutting hard substance as metal, diamond and so on, as well there is several application of LASER light in medical field.

Photochemical reactions take place all around us, being a significant feature of many of the chemical procedures occurring in living systems and in the atmosphere. The power and adaptability of photochemistry is becoming gradually more significant in improving the quality of our lives, through health care, energy manufacture and the search for 'green' solutions two several of the problems of the modern world. Many industrial and technological procedures rely on applications of photochemistry, and the expansion of many new machines has been made possible via spin-off from photochemical research. Photochemistry is the study of the chemical reactions and physical transforms that result from interactions between matter and visible or ultraviolet light.

The principal aim of this Unit is to familiarize the reader with basic ideas relating to light and matter and the interaction between them.

Light and matter

The reason that light is so significant for our understanding of the Universe is since light interacts through matter, and that interaction can tell us a great deal about the nature of the matter. Therefore, it is significant to be concerned through how light electromagnetic waves interact via matter. A sound knowledge of the energy level structure of atoms and molecules is essential to understand the nature of this interaction. These interactions are at the extremely heart of spectroscopy. There are lots of spectroscopic procedures. 

Absorption of Light by Atoms and Molecules

The essential thoughts:

Light consists of oscillating electric and magnetic fields. Since nuclei and electrons are charged elements, their motions in atoms and molecules produce oscillating electric fields. An atom or molecule can soak up energy from light if the frequency of the light oscillation and the frequency of the electron or molecular 'transition motion' match. Unless such frequencies match, light absorption can't take place. The 'transition motion' frequency is related to the frequencies of motion in the higher and lower energy states via the equation:                                

ΔE = E2 - E1 = hν                                                                  

By measuring the frequencies of light absorbed via an atom or molecule, one can find out the frequencies of the numerous alteration motions that the atom or molecule can have. Therefore light absorption can be utilized to probe the dynamics of atoms and molecules. Such thoughts are the basis for the methods of spectroscopy that is the examiner of the interaction of light and matter. The word means 'measurement of spectrum,' where the spectrum of a substance is the array of frequencies of light absorbed via its atoms or particles.

Differences between thermal and photochemical processes 

Many chemical reactions take place only when a molecule is provided the essential 'activation energy'. An easy instance can be the ignition of gasoline (a hydrocarbon) into carbon dioxide and water. In this reaction, the activation energy is offered in the form of heat or a spark. In case of photochemical reactions light provides the activation energy. Simplistically, light is one mechanism for providing the activation energy needed for many reactions. If laser light is employed, it is probable to selectively excite a molecule so as to create a wished electronic and vibrational state. Uniformly, the emission from a particular state might be selectively checked, providing evaluate of the population of that state. If the chemical system is at low pressure, this enables scientists to examine the energy distribution of the products of a chemical reaction before the differences in energy have been smeared out and averaged via repeated collisions.

The absorption of a photon of light through a reactant molecule might as well allow a reaction to take place not just via bringing the molecule to the essential activation energy, but as well via changing the symmetry of the molecule's electronic configuration, enabling an otherwise inaccessible reaction path, as explained via the Woodward-Hoffmann selection rules. A 2+2 cycloaddition reaction is one instance of a pericyclic reaction that can be examined using such rules or through the related frontier molecular orbital theory. Photochemical reactions engage electronic reorganization initiated via electromagnetic radiation. The reactions are several orders of magnitude faster than thermal reactions; reactions as fast as 10-9 seconds and connected processes as fast as 10-15 seconds are frequently examined. Difference between photochemical reactions and thermal reactions are summarized below: 

Table: Difference between thermal and photochemical reactions

862_Difference between thermal and photochemical reactions.jpg


Photochemistry is the study of how two of the most essential components of the universe, light and matter, contact through each other. The field of photochemistry can be classified in terms of photo physics (interaction of light by molecules that consequences in net physical, not chemical, changes) and photochemistry (interaction of light with molecules which effects in net chemical transforms).

Basic laws of photochemistry

Grotthus-Draper law (1st law of photochemistry)

In the early 1800s Christian von Grotthus (1785-1822) and John Draper (1811-1882) invented the 1st law of photochemistry that states that only light that is absorbed via a molecule can create a photochemical change in that molecule. This law relates photochemical activity to the fact that each chemical substance absorbs only indeed wavelengths of light, the set of which is exclusive to that material. Therefore, the presence of light alone isn't sufficient to induce a photochemical reaction; the light must as well be of the correct wavelength to be absorbed via the reactant species.

Stark-Einstein law (2nd law of photochemistry)

In the early 1900s the expansion of the quantum theory of light-the thought that light is absorbed in discrete packets of energy said photons-led to the extension of the laws of photochemistry. The 2nd law of photo-chemistry, expanded via Johannes Stark (1874-1957) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955), states that only one quantum, or one photon, of light is absorbed via each molecule undergoing a photochemical reaction. In other terms, there is a one-to-one correspondence between the number of absorbed photons and the number of excited species. The ability to precisely find out the number of photons leading to a reaction enables the competence, or quantum yield, of the reaction to be computed.

Photochemistry Induced By Visible and Ultraviolet Light

Light that can break molecular bonds is most effectual at inducing photochemical reactions. The energy needed to break a molecular bond ranges from about 150 kiloJoules per mole to nearly 1000 kJ mol-1, depending on the bond. Visible light, having wavelengths ranging from 400-700 nanometers, corresponds to energies ranging from approximately 300-170 kJ mol-1, correspondingly. As we know that this is sufficient energy to dissociate relatively weak bonds such as the single oxygen (O-O) bond in hydrogen peroxide (HOOH), which is why hydrogen peroxide must be stored in a light-proof bottle. Ultraviolet light, having wavelengths ranging from 200-400 nm, corresponds to higher energies ranging from approximately 600-300 kJ mol-1, respectively. Ultraviolet light can dissociate comparatively strong bonds these as the double oxygen (O=O) bond in molecular oxygen (O2) and the double C=O bond in carbon dioxide (CO2); ultraviolet light can as well eliminate chlorine atoms from compounds such as chloromethane (CH3Cl). The ability of ultraviolet light to dissociate such molecules is a significant aspect of the stability-and destruction-of ozone molecules in the upper atmosphere.

A photochemical procedure might be considered to consist of 2 steps: the absorption of a photon, followed via reaction. If the absorption of a photon reasons an electron inside an atom or molecule to raise its energy, the species is said to be electronically excited. The absorption and reaction steps for a molecule AB might be written as: AB + hν → AB* AB* → products where hν symbolizes the energy of a photon of frequency ν and the asterisk indicates that the species has become electronically excited. The excited species, AB*, has the additional energy of the absorbed photon and will react in order to reduce its energy.

Although the excited species generally does not live long, it is sometimes formally indicated when writing photochemical reactions to stress that the reactant is an electronically excited species. The possible reactions that an electronically excited species may undergo are illustrated below. 

Reaction pathways

Absorption of a photon (electronic excitation) Followed by:

i)  AB* → A + B Dissociation

ii) AB* → AB+ + e-


iii)  AB* → BA Isomerization

iv) AB* + C → AC + B or ABC Reaction

v) AB* + DE → AB + DE* Energy Transfer (intermolecular)

vi)  AB* + M → AB + M Physical Quenching

vii)  AB* → AB Energy Transfer (intramolecular)

viii) AB* → AB + hν Luminsecence


The energy of an absorbed photon might be adequate to break molecular bonds (path i), creating 2 or more atomic or molecular fragments. A significant instance of photo dissociation is originated in the photochemistry of stratospheric ozone. Ozone (O3) is created in the stratosphere from molecular oxygen (O2) through the subsequent pair of reactions: O2 + hν → O + O and O + O2 → O3 where hν symbolizes the energy of a photon of ultraviolet light through a wavelength less than 260 nm. Ozone is as well separated via short-wavelength ultraviolet light (200-300 nm) through the reaction: O3 + hν → O2 + O. The oxygen atom shaped from this reaction might recombine through molecular oxygen to regenerate ozone, thereby completing the ozone cycle. The huge significance of stratospheric ozone is that it absorbs harmful short-wavelength ultraviolet light before it reaches the Earth's surface, therefore serving as a protective defend.

In current years, the consequence of chlorofluorocarbons usually recognized as Freons or CFCs, on the ozone cycle has become of great concern. CFCs increase into the stratosphere where they are dissociated via ultraviolet light, producing chlorine atoms (Cl) through the reaction: CFC + hν → Cl + CFC(minus one Cl). These chlorine atoms react by ozone to produce ClO and molecular oxygen: Cl + O3 → ClO + O2. ClO reacts through the oxygen atoms produced from the photo dissociation of ozone in reaction 5 to produce molecular oxygen and a chlorine atom: ClO + O → O2 + Cl. Therefore, the presence of CFCs interrupts the natural ozone cycle via consuming the oxygen atoms that should join through molecular oxygen to regenerate ozone. The net consequence is that ozone is eliminated from the stratosphere whilst the chlorine atoms are regenerated in a catalytic procedure to carry on the destructive cycle.

An electronically excited species might react through a second species to create a new product, or set of products (path iv). For instance, the products of the ultraviolet dissociation of ozone (reaction 5) are themselves electronically excited: O3 + hν → O * 2 + O*. These excited fragments might react via other atmospheric molecules such as water: O*+ H2O → OH + OH. Or they might react through ozone: O * 2 + O3 → 2O2 + O. These reactions don't readily take place for the corresponding non-excited species, proving the significance of electronic excitation in determining reactivity.

Energy Transfer

In several cases the excited species may merely shift its excess energy to a 2nd species. This procedure is said intermolecular energy transfer (path v). Photosynthesis relies on intermolecular energy move to redistribute the light energy gathered via chlorophyll to a reaction center where the carbohydrates that nourish the plant are generated. Physical quenching (path vi) is a particular case of intermolecular energy transfer in that the chemical performance of the species to that the energy is transferred doesn't change. An instance of a physical quencher is the walls of a container in which a reaction is confined. If the energy transfer happens inside the similar molecule, for instance, and if the excess electron energy is transferred into internal motion of the molecule, these as vibration, it is said intramolecular energy transfer (path vii).


Even though it isn't harshly a photochemical reaction, another pathway via that the excited species may reduce its energy is through emitting a photon of light. This procedure is said luminescence (path viii). Luminescence comprises the processes of fluorescence (prompt emission of a photon) and phosphorescence (delayed emission of a photon). Optical brighteners in laundry detergents have substances that absorb light of one wavelength, generally in the ultraviolet range, but release light at a longer wavelength, generally in the visible range-thereby appearing to reflect extra visible light and making clothing appear whiter.

This procedure is said fluorescence and only happens while the material is being illuminated. The related procedure, phosphorescence, persists after the excitation source has been eliminated and is utilized in "glow-in-the-dark" items.

Applications of Photochemistry

Many significant processes engage photochemistry. The premier instance is photosynthesis, in which most plants utilize solar energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose, disposing of oxygen as a side-product. Humans rely on photochemistry for the formation of vitamin D. In fireflies, an enzyme in the abdomen catalyzes a reaction that results in bioluminescence.

Photochemistry can also be highly destructive. Medicine bottles are often made with darkened glass to prevent the drugs from photo degradation. A pervasive reaction is the generation of singlet oxygen by photosensitized reactions of triplet oxygen. Typical photosensitizers include tetraphenylporphyrin and methylene blue. The resulting singlet oxygen is an aggressive oxidant, capable of converting C-H bonds into C-OH groups. In photodynamic therapy, light is utilized to destroy tumors via the action of singlet oxygen. Many polymerizations are started via photoinitiatiors, which decompose upon absorbing light to create the free radicals for Radical polymerization.

In the area of photochemistry, a photochemical reaction is a chemical reaction, which is induced via light. Photochemical reactions are precious in organic and inorganic chemistry since they proceed differently than thermal reactions. Photochemical reactions aren't only extremely helpful but as well can be a serious nuisance, as in the photo degradation of many materials, for example polyvinyl chloride. A large-scale application of photochemistry is photo resist technology, utilized in the production of microelectronic components. Vision is initiated via a photochemical reaction of rhodopsin.  

Experimental set-up

Photochemical reactions require a light source that liberates wavelengths equivalent to an electronic evolution in the reactant. In the early experiments (and in everyday life), sunlight was the light source, even though it is polychromatic. Mercury-vapor lamps are more common in the laboratory. Low pressure mercury vapour lamps mostly liberate at 254 nm. For polychromatic sources, wavelength ranges can be selected using filters. On the other hand, LEDs (light emitting diodes) and Rayonet lamps emit monochromatically.

The emitted light must of course reach the targeted functional group without being blocked via the reactor, medium, or other functional groups present. For many applications, quartz is utilized for the reactors in addition to enclose the lamp. Pyrex absorbs at wavelengths shorter than 275 nm. The solvent is a significant experimental parameter. Solvents are potential reactants and for this reason, chlorinated solvents are avoided since the C-Cl bond can direct to chlorination of the substrate. Strongly absorbing solvents avoid photons from reaching the substrate. Hydrocarbon solvents absorb only at short wavelengths and are therefore preferred for photochemical experiments requiring high energy photons. Solvents enclosing unsaturation absorb at longer wavelengths and can helpfully filter out short wavelengths. For instance, cyclohexane and acetone 'cut off' (absorb strongly) at wavelengths shorter than 215 and 330 nm, correspondingly.


Photo excitation is the 1st step in a photochemical procedure where the reactant is highest to a state of higher energy, an excited state. The photon can be absorbed directly via the reactant or by a photosensitizer, which absorbs the photon and transfers the energy to the reactant. The opposite process is said quenching when a photoexited state is deactivated via a chemical reagent. Most photochemical transformations take place by a series of easy steps recognized as primary photochemical procedures. One ordinary sample of such procedures is the excited state proton transfer (ESPT).

Organic photochemistry

Instances of photochemical organic reactions are electrocyclic reactions, photoisomerization and Norrish reactions. Alkenes undergo many significant reactions, which proceed by a photon-induced π to π* transition. The 1st electronic excited state of an alkene lacks the π-bond, so that rotation about the C-C bond is quick and the molecule engages in reactions not examined thermally. Such reactions involve cis-trans isomerization, cycloaddition to other (ground state) alkene to provide cyclobutane derivatives. The cis-trans isomerization of a (poly) alkene is included in retinal, a component of the machinery of vision. The dimerization of alkenes is appropriate to the photodamage of DNA, where thymine dimers are examined upon illuminating DNA to UV radiation. These dimers interfere through transcription. The beneficial consequences of sunlight are connected through the photochemically induced retro-cyclization (decyclization) reaction of ergo sterol to give vitamin D. In the DeMayo reaction, an alkene reacts by a 1,3-diketone reacts via its enol to yield a 1,5-diketone. Still another general photochemical reaction is Zimmerman's Di-pi-methane rearrangement.

In an industrial application, about 100,000 tonnes of benzyl chloride are prepared once a year via the gas-phase photochemical reaction of toluene with chlorine. The light is absorbed by chlorine molecule, the low energy of this transition being indicted via the yellowish color of the gas. The photon induces homolysis of the Cl-Cl bond, and the resultant chlorine radical converts toluene to the benzyl radical:

Cl2 + hν → 2 Cl·

C6H5CH3 + Cl· → C6H5CH2· + HCl

C6H5CH2· + Cl· → C6H5CH2Cl

Mercaptans can be created via photochemical addition of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) to alpha olefins.

Inorganic and organometallic photochemistry

Coordination complexes and organometallic compounds are as well photo reactive. These reactions can entail cis-trans isomerization. More commonly photoreactions result in dissociation of ligands, since the photon excites an electron on the metal to an orbital that is antibonding through respect to the ligands. Therefore, metal carbonyls that resist thermal substitution undergo decarbonylation upon irradiation through UV light. UV-irradiation of a THF solution of molybdenum hexacarbonyl gives the THF complex that is synthetically helpful:

Mo(CO)6 + THF → Mo(CO)5(THF) + CO

In a related reaction, photolysis of iron pentacarbonyl affords diiron nonacarbonyl (see figure):

2 Fe(CO)5 → Fe2(CO)9 + CO

Tutorsglobe: A way to secure high grade in your curriculum (Online Tutoring)

Expand your confidence, grow study skills and improve your grades.

Since 2009, Tutorsglobe has proactively helped millions of students to get better grades in school, college or university and score well in competitive tests with live, one-on-one online tutoring.

Using an advanced developed tutoring system providing little or no wait time, the students are connected on-demand with an expert at Students work one-on-one, in real-time with a tutor, communicating and studying using a virtual whiteboard technology.  Scientific and mathematical notation, symbols, geometric figures, graphing and freehand drawing can be rendered quickly and easily in the advanced whiteboard.

Free to know our price and packages for online chemistry tutoring. Chat with us or submit request at

©TutorsGlobe All rights reserved 2022-2023.