Unlocking the Secrets of the Universe: A Guide to Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR)

Have you ever wondered how scientists are able to identify the chemical composition of a material? How do they determine the functional groups in a molecule or the purity of a sample? The answer is Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy or FTIR for short. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at this powerful analytical technique and explore its many uses and limitations. So grab a cup of coffee (or tea, we don’t judge), and let’s dive in!

What is Fourier-transform Infrared Spectroscopy?

FTIR is a technique that uses infrared radiation to excite the vibrations of the atoms and molecules in a sample. These vibrations correspond to specific frequencies, and by measuring the absorption or transmission of infrared radiation at different frequencies, scientists can identify the chemical composition of a sample. This technique is especially useful for identifying functional groups in a molecule, such as the C-H, C=O, or N-H bonds.

How Does FTIR Work?

FTIR works by shining infrared radiation through a sample and measuring the amount of radiation that is absorbed or transmitted at different frequencies. The radiation is typically delivered to the sample using a beam splitter and a detector, such as a mercury cadmium telluride detector or a mercury-cadmium-telluride detector. The resulting data is then analyzed using a mathematical technique called a Fourier transform, which converts the data into a spectrum that can be easily interpreted.

How Does FTIR Work?
How Does FTIR Work?

FTIR Applications

1. Quality control in the food and beverage industry: FTIR can be used to identify the functional groups in food and beverage samples, such as the C-H and O-H bonds in sugar and water, respectively. This can be used to determine the quality of a sample, such as the purity of a juice concentrate or the presence of contaminants in a food product.

2. Identifying unknown compounds: FTIR can also be used to identify unknown compounds by comparing their infrared spectra to those of known compounds in a database. This technique is particularly useful for identifying small organic molecules, such as those found in complex mixtures like crude oil.

3. Environmental monitoring: FTIR can be used to monitor the presence of certain pollutants in the environment, such as volatile organic compounds or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are known to be harmful to human health.

Case Study: Using FTIR to Identify Contaminants in Food Products

A food manufacturer wanted to ensure that their product was free from contaminants, so they used FTIR to analyze a sample of the product. FTIR revealed the presence of an unknown compound that was not listed on the ingredient label. Further analysis using mass spectrometry revealed that the compound was a type of plasticizer that was not approved for use in food products. The manufacturer was able to remove the contaminants and ensure the safety of their product before it reached consumers.

Pros and Cons of FTIR


1. FTIR is a non-destructive technique, meaning that the sample can be analyzed multiple times without being damaged.

2. FTIR can be used to identify a wide range of compounds, including organic, inorganic, and biological materials.

3. It can be used to analyze a wide range of sample types, including solids, liquids, and gases.

4. The technique is relatively simple and easy to use, and it does not require extensive sample preparation.


1. FTIR can be expensive to set up and maintain, as it requires specialized equipment and trained personnel.

2. The technique is not always as sensitive as other analytical methods. It may not be able to detect trace amounts of certain compounds.

3. The data generated by FTIR can be complex and difficult to interpret, especially for inexperienced users.

Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy is a powerful analytical technique. That can be used to identify the chemical composition of a wide range of materials. Whether you’re a food scientist, environmental chemist, or materials researcher. FTIR can provide valuable insights into the properties of your samples. While it does have its limitations, the benefits of this technique make it a valuable tool in any laboratory.

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