Used as a test agent in water-based solutions, aluminon detects the presence of aluminum ion. As an ammonium salt based dye, aluminon reacts to the presence of aluminum in food, drink tissues or anything else with a water base. During the reaction process, the dye produces a wide range of colors when it comes in contact with aluminum as well as iron, chromium and beryllium. The dye has a wide range of applications in various industries including manufacturing, the medical field and for analytical scientific research, particularly in chemistry. Research, however, has pointed to possible limitations and potential inaccuracies with relying on the dye to confirm the presence of aluminum in some instances.
To make aluminon, salicylic acid and sodium nitrite are mixed to create a reaction, and then formaldehyde is added to the solution, while subsequently treating the solution with ammonia to cool the dye. In the dry form, aluminon looks like a crystal and appears as a yellow-brown color, but when it reacts with water it will turn red. Unlike sugar, the temperature of the water will not affect the solubility of the dye when mixed with it. Instead, it will readily dissolve if the water is boiling, or even if it is cold or just luke-warm.
Applications that make use of aluminon and its reactive properties include a wide range of professions. Various manufacturers of aerosols used for diagnosing and treating ailments of the throat use the dye to aid in producing distinguishing colors. In the medical field, the dye is often used to stop protein biosynthesis from forming at its beginning stages. With environmental science where testing for the presence of aluminum is needed, often the aluminon test is utilized for quick results. Analytical chemists often use the same test to confirm the presence of aluminum in a variety of tests.
Use of aluminon in some test environments, however, does have its detractors due to concerns of inaccuracies report in results. Some researchers cite color formation as the primary deficiency in the reactive process. Color formation can be affected by a number of variables to include temperature, ph in water, and time of exposure to the aluminum elements. Due to these issues and subsequent studies, some researchers have concluded that aluminon is limited in accurately detecting aluminum elements. Others researchers, however, counter this position indicating the ions of other compounds with such potential use interfere with the ions in aluminum, giving a false reading.