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What is the flame test for Sr?

The flame test is a procedure used to identify elements based on the color they emit when heated. It is used to detect the presence of certain metal ions, including strontium (Sr). When Sr atoms are heated to high temperatures, some of their electrons gain enough energy to jump to higher energy levels. As the electrons fall back down to lower energy levels, they release energy in the form of light. Each element emits a characteristic color of light, which can be used to identify it.

How the Flame Test for Sr Works

To perform the flame test for Sr, a small amount of the sample is first cleaned and dissolved in hydrochloric acid to remove any contaminants. It is then placed on a wire loop or metal rod and held in the hot, non-luminous flame of a Bunsen burner. The flame excitation causes the electrons in the Sr atoms to jump to higher energy levels. As they fall back down, the electrons emit orange-red light. This emission color is characteristic of Sr and can be used to identify its presence.

When the flame test is performed properly, only small amounts of the Sr sample are needed to produce the emission color. The wire loop placed in the flame must be clean to avoid contamination from previous tests. Proper safety precautions should also be taken when working with an open flame.

Origins and History of the Flame Test

The origins of flame testing trace back to the early 19th century. In 1822, the Swedish chemist Jöns Jakob Berzelius noted a yellow color in a salt of lithium when exposed to a flame. A few years later in 1830, the English scientist William H. Wollaston systematically studied the colors emitted by metal salts heated in a flame. He observed the emission spectra of several elements and found that some salts colored flames, while others did not.

In 1860, German chemists Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff invented the Bunsen burner and used it to further study flame colors. They discovered that each element emits light at specific wavelengths, producing a unique emission spectrum. This allowed them to identify the elements sodium, potassium, calcium, barium, and copper based on the colors they emitted. Their work paved the way for the development of flame spectroscopy and spectrophotometers.

By the late 19th century, the flame test had become a standard procedure for identifying metals and continues to be used today. Modern variations include flame atomic emission spectroscopy, which uses quantitative measurements of the emitted light. The flame test remains a quick and simple way to analyze the presence of certain metal ions.

How Flame Color Depends on Metal Ions

The color emitted during a flame test depends on the specific metal ion present. When electrons fall from higher to lower energy levels, they emit photons of light at precise wavelengths. The wavelength determines the perceived color. Each metal ion has a unique electronic configuration, leading to characteristic emission colors.

Alkali metals like lithium, sodium, and potassium emit primary colors – red for lithium, orange for sodium, and violet for potassium. Earth alkali metals like strontium and calcium emit crimson red and brick red, respectively. Transition metals like copper emit shades of green and blue. Heavy metals like lead and bismuth emit bright blue-white flames. Noble gases do not emit colors.

The structure of the electron orbits and the energy differences between levels lead to the distinct colors for each ion. Colors can also be influenced by the presence of other ions and the temperature. But in general, the emission color is a unique identifier of the metal element.

Flame Test Procedure

Performing the flame test requires a few simple steps:

  1. Clean a platinum or nichrome wire loop and dip it into hydrochloric or nitric acid to remove contaminants. Rinse with distilled water and dry.
  2. Dip the loop into a sample of the compound being tested to coat a small amount on its tip. Alternatively, sprinkle a small sample directly onto the loop.
  3. Place the loop containing the sample into the hottest, non-luminous part of a Bunsen burner flame. The ideal flame temperature is about 1000°C.
  4. Observe the color emitted by the sample both during heating and afterwards. The color directly observed while hot is the best identifier.
  5. Compare the observed color to known emission colors for elements or a reference spectrum to identify the metal ions present.
  6. Clean the loop thoroughly after testing to prevent cross-contamination.

Proper cleaning between tests prevents erroneous results from compounds leftover on the loop. Placing the sample in the hottest part of the flame provides sufficient energy for electron excitations. Observing the color while hot gives the most accurate identification.

Flame Test Color for Strontium

When the flame test is performed on strontium compounds, an intense crimson red color is emitted. This is perhaps the most identifiable signature of Sr ions due to its striking red appearance. The color arises from a transition of electrons between energy levels 4p and 5s in the Sr atom. It can be produced from salts like strontium chloride or strontium nitrate when heated.

Strontium’s flame test color is so characteristic that detection of a crimson red emission is diagnostic of its presence. No other element produces the same strong red color. However, some caveats exist. The boron compound borax can produce a similar pink flame, but with less intensity than Sr. Lithium may yield faint red on occasions. But strontium’s crimson red is unique and easily distinguished from other elements.

Applications of the Strontium Flame Test

The flame test for strontium has several important practical applications:

  • Identifying unknown compounds – When an unknown solid sample produces a bright red flame color, it indicates strontium is present. The flame test can rapidly identify Sr compounds.
  • Detecting strontium impurities – Even small amounts of Sr impurities can be detected with flame testing due to the strong red emission. This allows purification and quality control monitoring.
  • Analyzing minerals and gemstones – Geologists use flame tests to identify trace Sr impurities in carbonate minerals like aragonite and celestite. The method also detects Sr in gems like ruby.
  • Forensic investigation – Criminologists can identify Sr residues at crime scenes based on the red flame color to provide evidence.
  • Fireworks – Sr compounds are used to create vivid red colors in fireworks and emergency flares.

The characteristic crimson emission makes the strontium flame test one of the most specific and selective identification methods for Sr available to chemists. When combined with spectroscopy, the test also enables precise quantification and analysis.

Interference from Other Ions

While strontium produces one of the most unique flame test colors, some potential interferences can exist from other metal ions present:

  • Calcium (Ca) – Imparts an orange-red color that is less intense than Sr.
  • Barium (Ba) – Emits a yellow-green color distinct from strontium red.
  • Copper (Cu) – Interferes only if present in high concentrations, producing blue-green.
  • Iron (Fe) – Contamination results in a gold or yellow-green color.
  • Sodium (Na) – Strong yellow but usually easily distinguished from red Sr.
  • Lithium (Li) – Faint red in some cases but much weaker than strontium.

These potential interferences reinforce the need to use clean equipment and solutions when performing the flame test. Beginning with a pure Sr compound and cleaning the wire loop between tests minimizes interference from contaminants. Proper technique ensures an accurate identification of the crimson red Sr emission signature.

Flame Test for Strontium Using Strontium Chloride

Strontium chloride (SrCl2) provides an excellent compound for demonstrating the crimson red strontium flame test. SrCl2 is an inexpensive and readily available chloride salt of Sr that works well when heated on a loop.

To perform the flame test using SrCl2, a small amount of the white crystalline powder is scooped up on a cleaned nichrome or platinum wire loop. The loop is placed into a hot Bunsen burner flame from a gas source like methane or propane. As the SrCl2 vaporizes, brilliant crimson red flames become visible. This strong red color confirms the presence of Sr ions.

Strontium chloride melts at 856°C and transitions to a vapor state at over 1000°C when heated. These high temperatures promote excellent energy transfer to the Sr atoms, causing the electrons to jump up energy levels. As they fall back down, the crimson light emission is produced. SrCl2’s high solubility provides sufficient Sr ions for bright flames.

With proper technique, as little as 1 mg of SrCl2 can yield the distinctive red flame color. Excellent results can be achieved using strontium chloride for an undergraduate lab demonstration of the flame test.

Hazards and Precautions

The flame test involves several potential hazards that require safety precautions:

  • Work in a fume hood or well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling toxic fumes from metals.
  • Use appropriate hand and eye protection when working with an open flame.
  • Tie back long hair and avoid loose clothing that could catch fire.
  • Allow wire loops to cool before touching or setting down.
  • Have a fire extinguisher on hand in case of accidental fires.
  • Dispose of metal solutions properly and clean equipment thoroughly after testing.
  • Exercise caution when handling concentrated acids like HCl or HNO3.

With proper precautions, the flame test can be performed safely. But care should be taken when working with flames and hazardous chemicals. Proper ventilation, protective equipment, and handling techniques minimize risks.


The flame test is a fast, simple way to identify the presence of certain metal ions based on the color they emit when heated. Each element has a unique emission spectrum. Strontium produces a deep crimson red color that is highly characteristic and identifiable, making it one of the easiest metals to detect with a flame test.

To perform the flame test for Sr, a clean wire loop is dipped into a strontium compound like SrCl2 and placed in a hot Bunsen burner flame. The crimson red color confirms Sr is present. This test has many applications in chemistry, forensic science, mineral analysis, and more. Understanding the procedure and proper precautions allows the flame test to be conducted safely and accurately for identifying strontium ions.