An early example of a colorimetric analysis is Nessler’s method for ammonia, which was introduced in 1856. Nessler found that adding an alkaline solution of HgI2 and KI to a dilute solution of ammonia produces a yellow to reddish brown colloid, with the colloid’s color depending on the concentration of ammonia. By visually comparing the color of a sample to the colors of a series of standards, Nessler was able to determine the concentration of ammonia.
Colorimetry, in which a sample absorbs visible light, is one example of a spectroscopic method of analysis. At the end of the nineteenth century, spectroscopy was limited to the absorption, emission, and scattering of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared electromagnetic radiation. Since its introduction, spectroscopy has expanded to include other forms of electromagnetic radiation—such as X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves—and other energetic particles—such as electrons and ions.