Luminol (Molecule of the Month for April 2007)
Luminol is a chemical that exhibits blue chemiluminescence, when mixed with an appropriate oxidizing agent. It is a white to slightly yellow crystalline solid that is soluble in water and most polar organic solvents. Luminol is used by forensic investigators to detect trace amounts of blood left at crime scenes. It is also used by biologists in cellular assays for the detection of copper, iron, and cyanides.
To exhibit its luminescence, the luminol must first be activated with an oxidant. Usually, a solution of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and a hydroxide salt in water is used as the activator. In the presence of an catalyst such as an iron compound, the hydrogen peroxide is decomposed to form oxygen and water. In a laboratory setting, the catalyst used is often potassium ferricyanide. In the forensic detection of blood, the catalyst is the iron present in hemoglobin. Enzymes in a variety of biological systems may also catalyze the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. When luminol reacts with the hydroxide salt, a dianion is formed. The oxygen produced from the hydrogen peroxide then reacts with the luminol dianion. The product of this reaction, an organic peroxide, is very unstable and immediately decomposes with the loss of nitrogen to produce 5-aminophthalic acid with electrons in an excited state. As the excited state relaxes to the ground state, the excess energy is liberated as a photon, visible as blue light.
Luminol is used by crime scene investigators to locate traces of blood, even if it has been cleaned or removed. The investigator prepares a solution of luminol and the activator and sprays it throughout the area under investigation. The iron present in any blood in the area catalyzes the chemical reaction that leads to the luminesence revealing the location of the blood. The amount of catalyst necessary for the reaction to occur is very small relative to the amount of luminol, allowing the detection of even trace amounts of blood. The glow lasts for about 30 seconds and is blue. Detecting the glow requires a fairly dark room. Any glow detected may be documented by a long exposure photograph.
Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)
Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for April 2007 )