Chemistry - How to switch Mercury-vapor lamp between UVA and UVC bands?


TL;DR - You need two different lamps, one that has a phosphor to absorb the 254 nm light, and one that doesn't. Alternatively, you can use one lamp, and use a filter to select the wavelengths.

Mercury vapour lamps emit a significant amount of both UV-C light (around 254 nm) and UV-A light (around 365 nm). This includes fluorescent bulbs used for lighting a room. The ultraviolet emission is a fundamental property of the element, not some kind of engineering accident. Light at these wavelengths is harmful, so you don't want it flying all over the place. The solution? Coat the inside of the lamp with a substance that absorbs the UV light. In some cases (but not all), the glass of the lightbulb itself can absorb the UV light.

Except now you're turning lots of luminous energy into heat, which is wasteful. A smarter solution is to coat the lamp with a phosphor, which absorbs the UV-C and UV-A light and reemits the energy at longer wavelengths. Depending on the phosphor, the reemitted light will have a different spectrum.

If you look at a 254 nm UV-C bulb and a 365 nm UV-A bulb (while they're turned off..), you'll notice that the 254 nm lamp is completely see-through, whereas the 365 nm lamp often has a white powdery coating the inside. This powder is a phosphor, which is chosen to absorb the 254 nm UV-C light, while letting the 365 nm UV-A light through (as well as other lower energy visible wavelengths). Some 365 nm UV-A lamps also have a coating to absorb the any visible light generated, such that relativity pure invisible 365 nm light shines through. This is popularly called a "black light".

Note that this does NOT imply every mercury lamp with a phosphor coating blocks the UV-C light it generates.