Atomic spectroscopy requires that atoms of the element of interest be in the atomic state (not combined with other elements in a compound) and that they be well separated in space. In foods, virtually all elements are present as compounds or complexes and, therefore, must be converted to neutral atoms (atomized) before atomic absorption or emission measurements can be made. Atomization involves separating particles into individual molecules (vaporization) and breaking molecules into atoms. It is usually accomplished by exposing the analyte (the substance being measured) to high temperatures in a flame or plasma although other methods may be used. A solution containing the analyte is introduced into the flame or plasma as a fine mist. The solvent quickly evaporates, leaving solid particles of the analyte that vaporize and decompose to atoms that may absorb radiation (atomic absorption) or become excited and subsequently emit radiation (atomic emission).