litmus, organic dye usually used in the laboratory as an indicator of acidity or alkalinity (see acids and bases). Naturally pink in color, it turns blue in alkali solutions and red in acids. Commonly, paper is treated with the coloring matter to form so-called litmus paper. Litmus is extracted, chiefly in the Netherlands, from certain lichens (see archil), which are mashed, treated with potassium carbonate and ammonia, and allowed to ferment. The resulting product is mixed with various colorless substances, such as chalk or gypsum, and is sold in dark blue lumps, masses, or tablets. The active component of litmus, i.e., the part sensitive to acids or bases, is called erythrolitmin.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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