Jul
04
2009

Fireworks chemistry

Awesome fireworks require a chemical bath

Fireworks color
Fireworks colorCourtesy Camera Slayer
Awesome Fourth of July fireworks can be viewed from our Science Museum of Minnesota each year during the Taste of Minnesota celebration. Fireworks are often shot over water to minimize fire danger. Ever wonder what kind of chemicals rain down into the Mississippi River during a fireworks display?

Chemical coloring

Part of learning chemistry is to understand what is called the flame test. Unknown chemical compounds, when heated in a flame, will generate different colors. Lithium yields red, copper gives blue or blue-green, sodium gives yellow, aluminum and titanium produce the whites.

Making fireworks more green

Chemists are attempting to make fireworks less harmful to the environment.

Perchlorates, which are used to help the fireworks’ fuel burn, were named in an EPA health advisory earlier this year (which recommended a maximum of 15 micrograms per liter of drinking water), as they have been linked to disruption of the thyroid gland.Scientific American

A 2007 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found that perchlorates spiked by up to 1000 times normal after the fireworks display and took 20 to 80 days to return to normal depending on surface temperatures.

How to make fireworks whistle, crackle, and pop

Click this link where Live Science explains some of the strange ingredients in fireworks like:

"chemists add bismuth trioxide to the flash powder to get that crackling sound, dubbed "dragon eggs." Ear-splitting whistles take four ingredients, including a food preservative and Vaseline.
Tubes, hollow spheres, and paper wrappings work as barriers to compartmentalize the effects. More complicated shells are divided into even more sections to control the timing of secondary explosions.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

I participated in raising the air pollution Saturday night.
According to the Star&Tribune, (click to read more)

Particle pollution in the Twin Cities was elevated Sunday because of Saturday night's fireworks all over the metro area, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Sunday.

posted on Sun, 07/05/2009 - 9:38pm
curious's picture
curious says:

wow, me too! morning glories are terrible little air pollutants! driving home i was trying to figure out if the fog was from the tremendous amount of fire works released in the neighborhoods or actual fog from the weather. spooky actually. yes, so definitely guilty of raising air pollution this weekend.

posted on Mon, 07/06/2009 - 3:46pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

fireworks are beautiful but we do need to find a way to make them better for the enviroment. Then we can enjoy them even more!!!!

posted on Tue, 07/21/2009 - 8:42am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

who cares about the environment if we can make things more beautiful. Focus on the chemistry part, stop tree hugging

posted on Tue, 07/21/2009 - 11:16am
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Oh, snap!!

But some might argue that there are aspects of the environment that are beautiful themselves.

Also, there's certainly chemistry involved in the biological affects these materials have on the environment.

Lamentably, the "tree hugging" aspect of this story doesn't involve as much stuff blowing up as the pyrotechnics part, but it's still all about science!

posted on Tue, 07/21/2009 - 12:34pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

ooooohhhhh.....
fireworks.....

posted on Tue, 07/21/2009 - 2:59pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

very cool

posted on Tue, 08/18/2009 - 12:11pm

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