The Chemistry of Fireworks

Essay by CrNaGoRaHigh School, 10th grade October 2009

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A firework is an incendiary device or material that can be used forsignalling orentertainment. There are chemicals located in the nose ofthe rocket that explode, producing the colours seen.

The art of fireworks, first originated in ancient China, with thefirst explosive being made from a mixture of black powder during theSung dynasty. It is believed that the explosive mixture was created bya combination of sulfur, saltpeter and charcoal. The Chinese foundthat the combination of these ingredients was extremely flammable andwould explode if set alight.

Fireworks were originally created for the purpose of entertainment andtoday they are still widely used in celebration to mark specialoccasions. The thrill and excitement generated by fireworks,brightening the night sky and immersing it with vivid displays ofcolour and technicality, which makes them a crowd pleaser.

Behind all the excitement of fireworks, chemistry plays an importantrole in creating the vivid colours we witness lighting up the sky.

Theactual chemical reactions that take place in the explosions requirethe use of oxidisers, reducing agents and binders. The additions ofvarying metal chlorides add the colours.

(See Table 1)OxidisersAn oxidizing agent producing the oxygen required to burn the mixtureReducersAn agent e.g. Sulphur, that burn the oxygen and produce hot gasesBindersRequired to hold the mixture in a lumpTABLE 1: Oxidisers, Reducers and BindersThe ability of producing coloured light from the principles offireworks have allowed this technology to be applied for bothindustrial and military uses. Fireworks are now used for flares andsmokescreens in modern society.

In Australia the non-authorised use of fireworks are banned due to thepossibility of death or injury caused by stray rockets anduncontrollable explosions. Care is also needed because fireworks candamage your hearing and the fumes produced are toxic.

Chemical Background:The production of light in fireworks, rely on basic chemicalprinciples such as redox reactions, combustion and the excitement ofelectrons in...