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Physics > UV Reactive Materials

Many everyday items fluoresce when subjected to Ultra Violet light from a "blacklight". More information about Ultra Violet lamps can be found by searching our Equipment section. The list below contains materials which glow brightly under UV radiation that can be used in schools to demonstrate the effect.

Plain white paper

Since the 1950s, many types of white paper contain dyes that fluoresce under UV blacklight. The compounds are added to make the paper appear whiter and cleaner.

Vaselene

Petroleum jelly such as Vaseline glows with a blue hue under UV blacklight

Tonic Water

Quinine, a bitter additive in tonic water makes the liquid glow blue under UV. Other types of soda water may also contain quinine.

Body Fluids

Not recommended for use in school (!) but fluids such as blood, saliva and semen all glow under UV blacklight. Forensic scientists use blacklights to detect bodily fluids at crime scenes.

Vitamins

Vitamin B12 glows brightly if crushed and added to vinegar with a yellow hue. Other A and B vitamins may also glow to a lesser extent.

Chlorophyll

Extract chlorophyll from spinach or Swiss Chard by crushing the leaves, mixing with a small amount of ethanol and then filtering. The resultant paste left in the filter paper glows green under UV blacklight.

Many flowers also glow under UV to different extents. Go into your garden just after sunset to see which flowers stand out. These are best to use.

Antifreeze/screenwash


Fluorescent additives are added to screenwash and antifreeze so that forensic investigators can reconstruct road accidents from where the liquid is splashed following a collision. Use neat for a very bright glow.

Detergents

Some washing detergents contain whiteners which make clothes appear brighter and cleaner after washing. These traces of dye glow white/blue under UV.

Toothpaste

Some toothpastes contain whitening compounds which glow white under UV. These make teeth appear brighter and cleaner.

Postage stamps / banknotes

Many types of UK postage stamps contain fluorescent compounds, used to verify a genuine specimen. Modern banknotes also contain compounds which glow for the same reason.

Rocks and minerals


Rocks such as fluorite, calcite, gypsum, ruby, talc, opal, agate, quartz, and amber all glow to differing extents under UV blacklight.

Bananas

The dark spots on bananas glow slightly under UV.

Animals

Butterfly and some moth wings glow various different colours when exposed to UV as do some colourful bird feathers. Jellyfish (if you can get hold of one) glow, as do some scorpions. Some types of tropical fish glow, which is why pet shops and aquariums often use blacklight to make fish appear brighter and more colourful.

Halloween products


"glow in the dark" items such as skeletons glow brightly under UV

Pens

Fluorescent highlighter pens will glow brightly under UV as will UV sensitive security markers.