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Certain toys found in cereal boxes display the phenomenon of phosphorescence. If a
child exposes the toy to a bright light (for example, the Sun), then the toy will glow with
a characteristic color when the child takes it into a dark closet.
The phenomenon of phosphorescence requires the interaction of light with three
energy levels in an atom (or molecule). The figure below shows a hypothetical energy
diagram in which the lowest state shown is the ground state (E = 0). When the toy is
taken into the Sun, a photon causes a transition from the ground state to state 2. Almost
immediately, the atom emits a photon, making a fast transition to state 1.
The atom makes a transition to the ground state only slowly. Thus when the child
takes the toy into a closet, he/she is able to observe the phosphorescent photons from
this final transition. The transition from state 1 to the ground state is said to be
forbidden, it takes place by a different (and thus slower) process than the other
Let fabs be the frequency of the absorbed photons, ffl be the frequency of the photons
emitted while the object is still in the sunlight, and fph be the frequency of the photons
released in the closet. (Planck’s constant is h = 4.14×10-15 eV.s.)