The employment of optical principles and equipment is vitally important in many operations of the petroleum industry. At the present time the greatest concentration of optical applications is in spectroscopy. Emission spectroscopy is widely used in almost all operations for rapid reliable analyses of materials for metallic or inorganic elements. These applications range from the measurement of metallic elements present in crude oil to the solving of customer complaints where there is a relation between poor performance and the presence of impurities.
The techniques of infrared and ultraviolet absorption spectroscopy are quite widely used to solve many analytical and molecular structure problems encountered in hydrocarbon chemistry. Infrared absorption is particularly valuable for distinguishing between close boiling isomers, and the ultraviolet technique is very extensively used in the analysis for various kinds of aromatics. A specialized branch of infrared absorption wherein the selective absorption properties of gases are utilized is becoming of great importance for the continuous monitoring and automatic control of refining processes.
An indirect but extremely important application of optics is in the utilization of thermodynamic quantities derived from spectroscopic data. Fairly complete data from this source are available on about 210 hydrocarbons, and today research on any refining process is seldom undertaken until a preliminary study is made of the thermodynamic data. Various aspects of photochemistry and optical activity are important in the oil business. It has been found practical and convenient to utilize ultraviolet light in accelerated stability tests of products subject to deterioration with age. At present it is known that a hydrocarbon of phenomenal octane number may be prepared by photochemical synthesis. In the study of compounds isolated from petroleum it has been discovered that some of them are optically active. At least one of these has been isolated and studied.
Aerial photography occupies a very important place in the mapping work involved in exploration and pipe-line surveys. Stereograms are used for contouring purposes to yield satisfactory topographic maps. Many significant surface geological features may be delineated from stereograms and photomosaics. A field allied to mapping and employing the concepts, if not the equipment, of optics is in radiolocation wherein either direct interferometric techniques or time measurements of wave propagation are employed. Other sciences utilizing common optical concepts are x-ray diffraction, electron diffraction, electron microscopy, and mass spectrometry. All of these are essential to the modern research laboratory of the petroleum industry.
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