Understanding the Difference Between Spectrometry and Spectroscopy

The study of light-matter interactions is incredibly vast and varied with many similar-sounding sub-categories so no wonder students in the field frequently make the mistake of mixing up terms. Spectrometry and spectroscopy are two terms that are often mixed-up even though they have completely different definitions. Essentially spectroscopy is the study of radiated energy and matter aimed at figuring out how they interact together. Spectrometry is the applied science of spectrometry so there are actually real-world applications that can be useful. This article will go over some of the main definitions of spectrometry and spectroscopy so moving forward you hopefully won’t mix-up the two anymore.


Spectrometry refers to the actual measurement of a specific spectrum, there are four main types of spectrometers: mass spectrometers, neuron triple-axis spectrometers, ion mobility spectrometers and finally, Rutherford backscattering spectrometers. Think of these different types of spectrometers as different types of analytic tools used for determining how energy and matter interact. If you wish to look more into spectrometers, the ones from Pasco Scientific are a great way to start. They are absolutely high-quality pieces of machinery so you can put your theoretical knowledge of spectroscopy to good use and start applying it to real-world problems with spectrometry. The following paragraphs will highlight some of the applied uses of spectrometry.

Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectrometry is an analytic technique used to measure the mass-to-change ratio of ions. A sample material like metal is placed into the mass spectrometer and it ionized, the results are then generally plotted as a mass spectrum. Mass spectrometry has many direct applications such as determining the isotopic composition of elements in a molecule.

Neuron Triple Axis Spectrometry

Neuron triple-axis spectrometry is an analytic technique used in inelastic neutron scattering; the three-axis refer to monochromatization, sample interaction, and analyzing. It works by exciting neurons and then analyzing their wavelengths in order to determine energy transfer. Triple axis spectrometry has many useful applications, but it was originally designed for measuring the phonons, which a crystalline compound can sustain when it’s excited.

Ion-Mobility Spectrometry

Ion-mobility spectrometry is an analytic technique intended to separate and identify specific ionized molecules in their gas-phase depending on their mobility in a carrier buffer gas. The way it works is that ions are separated at standard atmospheric pressure after being charged under an electric field where they then can be sorted by shape and size. Ion-mobility spectrometry is incredibly interesting and has multiple applications such as in the detection of drugs, explosives and even biological warfare agents since they can detect pretty much any compound that is ionized.

Rutherford Backscattering Spectrometry

Rutherford backscattering spectrometry, which is sometimes also referred to as high-energy ion scattering (HEIS) spectrometry is an analytic process used to determine the specific structure and composition of a substance by measuring the backscattering of a beam of high energy ions, usually alpha particles or protons. A Rutherford backscattering spectrometer requires three essential components: a source of ions, a linear particle accelerator and a detector capable of measuring the energies of the backscattered ions over multiple angles. Applications of this method include the determination of the composition of materials being tested and even their purity.


When energy is absorbed by matter, it causes it to enter an excited state and can react in many ways, this is what the science of spectroscopy looks into. Spectroscopy started off originally as the study of visible light being dispersed according to its wavelengths. A classic example of spectroscopy is analyzing white light when it enters a prism and is dispersed into different colors. Later on, spectroscopy expanded to include the study of the interaction of specific substances and different forms of energy as a function of their frequency or wavelength.

Applications of Spectroscopy

Spectroscopy is studied across several different fields of research, including chemistry, physics and even astronomy as it looks into the composition and structures of different types of matter. Spectroscopy is a broad field of study, but one example of what it looks into is the different types of materials. When different types of materials are energized they will express different sorts of characteristics. For example, when a sodium chloride molecule is charged with electricity, it will express different electron spin states and molecular vibration than an ammonia molecule being charged at the same level.

Spectroscopy also encompasses the study of how different types of radiation affect compounds. By looking at how molecules and atoms react to different forms of energy like microwaves or infrared light, we can learn more about their structure. Spectroscopy is, therefore, more about scientific inquiry where spectrometry is more about the applied use of matter and energy interactions.

Spectroscopy is the scientific study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. Spectrometry is the direct application of spectroscopy and is used to measure the properties of specific spectrums. There are four main types of spectrometry, which have their own specific applications: mass spectrometry, neuron triple-axis spectrometry, ion mobility spectrometry, and Rutherford backscattering spectrometry. Remember these definitions of spectroscopy and spectrometry and you won’t mix up the two again.

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