How Glowsticks Work

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Glowsticks, since their invention nearly 30 years ago, have been made popular by millions across the world. Without use of battery or bulb, without heat, the sticks provide light with a snap. The magic' behind a glowstick's light is due to a chemical reaction, involving several different compounds.

Whenever reaction takes place between certain compounds, atoms of the compounds are made excited, thus pushing their electrons onto a higher level of energy. The light caused is due to the returning to original energy levels by the electrons. To sum this process up, we call it chemiluminescence.

The solutions in charge of the reactions within your average glowstick are hydrogen peroxide, and phenyl oxalate ester. A fluorescent dye is also held with the stick to give it its color. The process of chemiluminescence between these solutions causes that familiar glowstick glow:

1. Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes with phenyl oxalate ester to result in a phenol and peroxyacid ester.
2. Peroxyacid ester decomposes an additional phenol and cylic peroxy compounds remain.
3. Cylic peroxy decomposes, leaving carbon dioxide.
4. Decomposition fills the glowstick's dye with energy.
5. Energy levels of the electrons within the dye rocket and fall, leaving behind energy in the form of light.

Now, what triggers the reaction?
Hydrogen peroxide, known here as activator' of the reaction, is held separate from the other compounds within a glass tube inside the glowstick. Snapping the stick breaks this glass tube and releases hydrogen peroxide to mix with the other solutions light is formed.

The glowstick is one of many appliances using luminescence, a form of lighting caused without the use of heat.

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