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This article discusses the general principles, optical systems, and emission sources of optical emission spectroscopy for elemental analysis. Changes in the energy of the valence or outer shell electrons result in the atomic lines used in emission spectroscopy. Each possible combination of electron configurations produces a spectroscopic term that describes the state of the atom. Atomic emission is analytically useful only to the extent that the emission from one atomic species can be measured and its intensity recorded independent of emission from other sources. Emission sources are often designed to minimize molecular emission. Each of the four types of emission sources; arcs, high-voltage sparks, glow discharges, and flames; has a set of physical characteristics with accompanying analytical assets and liabilities. The article also discusses the applications of each type of emission source.

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