The Chemistry of Firework Colors

Wes Becker's image for:
"The Chemistry of Firework Colors"
Image by: 

In celebrations all over the world, one specific thing makes it a celebration, that specific thing is fireworks. Fire works were first used in twelfth century china as a way to ward off evil spirits. Soon the Chinese saw firework's true beauty and it became an art, with respected pyrotechnicians (or firework masters). In the eighteenth century fireworks were used as weapons by militaries in the nations of Europe. Now, fireworks have spread all over the world and are commonly used to celebrate certain events such as a birth, wedding, death, coronation, new years festival and in American the independence day festivals.

The production of fireworks is a very complicated task. First the firework tubes must be made by using thick rolling paper. One end of the tube is plugged to prevent chemicals from escaping through holes in the bottom of the tube. The chemical are then placed in the center of the firework tube, when light this is what will create the explosion. For a single firework, a fuse is placed on the top, however to create a square shaped repeater, several tubes are glued on a thin sheet of cardboard, and repeating this until they form a box formation. After you drill two holes in each tube and string a fuse through each hole connecting each firework. After this the chemical powder is placed in each tube, and the tubes are sealed.

Each result of a light firework, the sights and sounds, are the results of several chemical reactions. Oxidizers (oxidation is a process where oxygen is gained and hydrogen is lost) what are used in the black powder of fireworks create the chemical gas that is needed to burn the mixture of agents and to excite the atoms. Oxidizers in fireworks include nitrates, chlorates, and perchlorates. Nitrates (which are the most commonly used oxidizers) release two of three of their oxygen atoms when they react. This helps propel the firework into the sky when light.

Basic chemical principles are in play when fireworks are light. These basic principles include redox reactions, combustion and the excitement of electrons in metal ions when heat is applied. The beautiful colors of fire works require chemical reactions to take place. For reactions in fireworks to take place the oxygen produced by oxidizers needs to burn and reducers reduce the amount of oxygen gas. When light, all the chemical reactions result in a combustion (process of rapid oxidation of a substance with simultaneous release of heat and light). Reducing agents burn off the oxygen produced by oxidizers, this helps control the speed of the reaction, and therefore the amount of time after a firework is light that a reaction is seen. If a brighter light is wanted in a firework, to produce special colors of the visible spectrum, metal ions are added to the firework because they generate higher temperatures.

The different colors of fireworks that we see in the sky are a result of the numerous chemical flakes that are packed into the tube of a firework lighting on fire. The ignition of the powder is produced by the numerous chemical reactions that take place inside the tube of the firework. The stars in the firework powder are the chemical materials the ignite and turn various shades of the visible spectrum once in the air.

In the earliest fireworks in China, saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal were used, but today many numerous elements are used to create a vaster array of colors. For example, red is produced by stontium, yellow-green is produced by barium, green is produced by borax and purple is produced by lithium.

Great event in history have been marked by the use of fireworks. The turn the new millennium in the year two thousand was marked by a great celebrations all over the world, all including fireworks. The birth of great kings have been marked by fireworks being shown over the place of their birth. In my hometown Louisville, Kentucky fireworks mark the beginning of the world famous Kentucky Derby Festival at Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual firework show in North America. In my town chemistry has enabled our culture to expand including this festival which all Louisville native hold close to their hearts.

More about this author: Wes Becker

From Around the Web