Physical And Chemical Properties Of Fireworks

Category: Chemistry, Explosive, Nature
Last Updated: 20 Jun 2022
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Whether it be the 4th of July, a day at Disneyland, or Chinese New Year, fireworks can be used to appeal to people of all ages, genders, and races. These low explosive pyrotechnic devices are primarily used for aesthetic or entertainment purposes. Fireworks come in various forms, including sparklers, firecrackers, basic fireworks, and ariel or display fireworks. Those who watch firework displays find that those can be broken into smaller categories by four primary effects.

These effects include noise, light, smoke, and floating material. Because of the varying types available, it is common for fireworks to be classified by how they perform, whether it be on the ground or more commonly, aerial. The overall dangers associated with that particular kind of firework is another factor of classification as well. Although fireworks can be easily found in stores and on display, few people truly understand the physical and chemical properties that exist to cause a complex chemical combustion like this to occur.Due to the general public’s lack of awareness, it is common for severe injuries and even death to take place. Despite the government’s best efforts to accurately classify fireworks, consumers still manage to get a hold of illegal fireworks without proper licensing and remain unaware of the potential dangers. In the United States, fireworks are classified as either consumer or display fireworks based upon the amount of pyrotechnic composition an item contains (“Firework”).

Even with certain restrictions on fireworks, thousands of accidents occur each year.It is no doubt that fireworks are potentially dangerous for the person operating them and for bystanders alike, as they may even land on flammable material and cause a fire. As a result, a general understanding of firework composition and technology is almost necessary to ensure that a disaster is prevented. History The art of fireworks originated in ancient China. It is believed that approximately 2000 years ago (Gondhia) in the Sung dynasty (Brockert), a Chinese cook accidently mixed KNO3 (or salt peter), sulfur, and charcoal.After heating these three ingredients, the cook found that when ignited, the black flaky powder created a loud bang. This fascinating black powder became known as huo yao (fire chemical) or gunpowder.

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It was later found that when the chef’s mixture was inserted into a hollow bamboo stick and thrown into a fire, an immense amount of pressure built up and blasted the tube apart to what became known as the firecracker. Eventually, firecrackers began to play an essential role in Chinese festivals, such as weddings and religious rituals (Gondhia).It was widely believed that firecrackers could be used to chase away evil spirits during the New Year and Mid Autumn Moon festivals (“Firework”). Firecrackers were also gradually used in warfare and within a hundred years of its invention, fire arrows (arrows attached to bamboo firecrackers) and ground rats (propelling rats from inside bamboo firecrackers) were developed (Dotz 1994). In the thirteenth century (Alan), Marco Polo brought the invention of firecrackers to the Middle East. By the fourteenth century, Europe had managed to surpass China in fireworks technology (Brockert).Roger Bacon, one of the first Europeans to study gunpowder, was the first to write about the invention.

Bacon had discovered that KNO3 was the force behind the explosion, yet wrote his findings in a code after realizing the potential he held to possibly revolutionize warfare for the worst. By 1560, European chemists finally discovered the correct proportion for the mixture. The ratio became known was 75% salt peter, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulphur- a ratio that still exists today. This discovery marked the end of medieval warfare(Gondhia).The aesthetic aspect of development is credited to the Italians, who were able to develop aerial shells that when lit, burst into a fountain of color. Even today, many leading American display companies, such as the Grucei family or the Dozzi family, are operated by families of Italian descent (Dotz 1994). The scientific aspect of fireworks grew in Germany, where advancement became the key goal in pyrotechnics.

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that fireworks also became popular in America. Firework development, such as the forest green color, is still continuing today (Gondhia).Discussion A basic firework, sparkler, firecracker, and aerial all have different components in which produce different reactions. Different components may also be added to an aerial firework to produce various colors and shapes. A basic firework is made up of six basic ingredients. These ingredients include fuel, an oxidising agent, a reducing agent, regulators, a coloring agent, and binders. Charcoal or black powder is the most common fuel in fireworks.

Other elements like thermite can be used in place of black powder, although fuels usually contain an organic element.The fuel initially starts to work inside the firework when it begins to lose electrons to atoms within the oxidiser, thereby reducing and releasing atoms from the oxidiser. When this occurs, bonds are formed between the fuel and oxygen atoms, causing the product to be somewhat stable. However, only a minimal amount of energy is required to start the combustion of this fuel oxidiser compound. As a result, the solid mixture liquefies and vaporizes into the flame of the ignition causing a massive release of energy. This act marks the beginning of combustion (Gondhia).The oxidising agent produces the oxygen needed in order for the mixture inside the firework to burn.

Nitrate is usually used as an oxider, although chlorates and perchlorates can be used as well: XNO3 --> XNO2 + 1/2 O2 As illustrated from the chemical equation, nitrates only give up a third of their oxygen. Chlorates, on the other hand, are extremely explosive. Unlike nitrates, chlorates get completely reduced and as a result, work as better oxidising agents and thereby create an even more spectacular reaction: 2XClO3 --> 2XCl + 3O2Perchlorates contain even more oxygen than the two, however are less likely to explode in comparison to chlorates due to their increase in stability: XClO4 --> XCl + 2O2 The reducing agent burns the oxygen provided by the oxidising agent to produce hot gases. Sulphur and charcoal are common reducing agents and after reacting with oxygen, form sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide: S + O2 --> SO2 C + O2 --> CO2 By adding regulators to the reducing agent, the speed of the reaction can be somewhat controlled. Metals are most commonly added to regulate the speed of the reaction.According to the collision theory, the larger the surface of the metal, the faster the reaction (McConnel). Binders hold the mixture of the firework agent together in a paste like mixture to form a lump.

This lump makes up the star. The most common binder is dextrine, a type of starch which holds the composition together. Paron can also be used in binding, however is less common and only used in conjunction with red and green fireworks as means to enhance their color. The star in a firework can work in different ways to produce several different effects.For example, the most common peony is a spherical break of colored stars. Things like the horsetail or waterfall can also be produced. This shell features a heavy long burning tail of stars that only travel a short distance from the shell burst.

The star is made up of two basic elements: dextrine decomposed by water and a shellac compound dampened by alcohol. Binders do not work until the firework is lit and because of its explosive elements, are too unstable for storage within the firework. Color in firework displays is a fairly new invention, introduced a mere hundred years ago.In fact, before the nineteenth century, only yellows and oranges could be produced with the use of steel and charcoal. Decent blues and purples were not developed until this century. To make a firework a certain color, the correct corresponding chemical or mixture of chemicals must be used. The light quality in fireworks are produced through incandescence (light produced by energy sources other than heat) and incandescence (light produced by heat in which causes a substance to grow hot and glow).

Incandescence occurs when solid particles are heated in the flame to extremely high temperatures.At this time, excess energy is released in the form of light at the broad end of the spectrum (Gondhia). These specific colors produced by the signature chemicals in fireworks emit light at specific wavelengths. These wavelengths allow us to see different colors, since light is produced at different photons. The higher the temperature, the shorter the wavelength at which the light is emitted and the closer it tends toward the blue end of the colored spectrum. When the wavelength is longer, light is closer to the red end of the spectrum (Miller): ColorCompoundWavelength of LightRedStrontium Salts and Lithium Salts Li2CO3 SrCO3600-646 nm OrangeCalcium Salts CaCl2 CaSO4, 2H2O591-603 nm GoldIncandescence of Iron or Charcoal590 nm YellowSodium Compounds NaNO3 Na3AlF6589 nm Electric WhiteWhite Hotel Metal BaO564-576 nm GreenBarium compounds with Chlorine (Barium must be combined with chlorinated rubber so it remains stable in room temperature) BaCl+511-533 nm BlueCopper Compounds with Chlorine460-530 nm PurpleMixture of Strontium (red) and Copper (blue) compounds432-456 nm SilverBurning aluminium, titanium, or magnesium powder412 nm ?It is impossible to create a blue or green color through incandescence since a much higher temperature is required and as a result, would be impractical if used. The light then, can be produced in other forms other than heat through incandescence.

During this process, energy from the fire in the basic fuel can be transferred to the atoms of the colorant chemicals. This excites electrons in those chemicals into higher energy states. As a result, electrons literally orbit further away from the atom’s nucleus. As the atom’s cool down, they move back to lower states of energy.When this energy is conserved, the remaining energy is converted into radiation and then light. Therefore, the colors can be seen when the atoms are cooling down. Chemists are able to produce little pellets of colorant chemicals.

A mixture of colorant and basic fuel blended to the right degree and correct size allows the pellet to burn at the desired rate, thus allowing the colors to burst at the correct times (Russell 2000). Each kind of firework contains these basic ingredients with little variation, although the structure of the firework does change.A simple firework packs black powder at the center. The stars are then placed around the powder, which will ignite and burn. The bursting charge is also located in the center. The bursting charge is a firecracker like charge at the center of the shell (Miller). Depending on the basic fuel, colorant pellets, and h? ow the stars are placed, different types of effects can occur.

For example, tricky shapes like stars and hearts are made by pasting colorant pellets on paper in the desired pattern. The paper is then placed in the middle of the shell with the explosive charges above and below (Ropeik).At the same time the powder is ignited, the main fuse or the time delay is lit as well. The main fuse goes to the bottom where black powder is located. When the black powder is ignited in a small closed container, the heat and gas will cause an explosion to launch in the tube. The time delay allows the firework to burn slower due to the coarser grained black powder placed in the center. The structure of a sparkler is a little bit different.

A sparkler is composed of medium sized grains of aluminum.When these grains are ignited, it burns with oxygen in the air, resulting in sparks (Donner 1997). These sparks burn for a long period time and produce extremely bright and showery light. It is sometimes even referred to as the “snowball sparkler” due to the balls of sparks that surround the burning portion. A sparkler consists of fuel (usually charcoal or sulfur), an oxidizer, iron or steel powder, and a binder (commonly sugar or starch). When these ingredients are mixed together in water, the chemicals form a slurry that can be coated on a wire or poured into a tube.Once dried, a sparkler, fuel, and oxidizer are proportioned along with other chemicals so the sparkler burns slowly rather than exploding like a firework.

A firecracker, on the other hand, is used to create an explosion. Like fireworks, firecrackers have been around for hundreds of years. Firecrackers consist of either black powder or gunpowder or flash powder in a tight paper tube with a fuse to light the powder. The black powder in the mixture includes charcoal, sulfur, and potassium nitrate. Occasionally, however, aluminum may be added to the mixture or used in place of charcoal as means to brighten the explosion.It is actually common for fireworks to do the same and even add iron, steel, zinc, or magnesium dust in order to create bright, shimmering sparks (Brian). Aerial fireworks are the most common type of firework, as they are the most visual pleasing.

An aerial firework originates from small shells that are then reliant on a lift charge that then propels the shell into the air (Gondhia). A shell consists of four parts: a container, stars, a bursting charge, and a fuse, which provides a time delay so the shell will explode at the correct altitude. Below the shell is the lifting charge.The shell is launched from a mortar or a short, steel pipe with a lifting charge of black powder that explodes in the pipe to launch the shell. When the lifting charge fires to launch the shell, it lights the shell’s fuse. The shell’s fuse then burns until the shell rises to its correct altitude and ignites the bursting charge so it explodes. ?The stars inside the container come in various shapes and sizes.

Simple stars are much like sparklers but in compound form into a ball the size of a pea or a dime. The stars are then poured into the tube and surrounded by black powder.The fuse burns inside the shell, ignites the bursting charge, and then proceeds on to make the entire shell explode. The explosion ignites the outside of the stars, which begins to burn with bright showers of sparks. The explosion throws the stars in all directions, resulting in hugh spheres of sparking light (Brian). Firework displays don’t usually include only one set of aerial shells, however. More commonly, multi break shells are seen and burst in two or three phases.

Usually stars contain several different colors and composition to create things like softer or bright light or more or less sparks.Some shells even contain explosives that are designed to crackle in the sky or whistle as confetti stars burst out (Russell 2000). To make a sound like a whistle, basic fuel is packed in a cardboard tube and opened on one end. As the fuel burns inside the tube, the carbon dioxide it gives off rushes out the open end, making a whistling sound (Ropeik). Some shells may consist of a shell filled with other shells or they may have multiple sections without using additional shells. The sections of a multi break shell are ignited by different fuses.Therefore, shells must be assembled in such a way that each section explodes in sequence to produce distinct separate effects.

When assembled correctly, the bursting of one section should ignite the next (Brian). With today’s extensive firework technology, computer programmers have learned to synchronize the firing of thousands of fireworks from just one control panel. The firework is fitted with a metal match heads which resembles that of a real match. When the button of the firing panel is pushed, a surge of electrical charge or current is created and travels down thin wire until it hits the match head and ignition occurs.The spark from this ignition lights a fuse to the firework causing it to elevate in the air. These extensive “firing panels,” however, are only used on large scale displays. The future of fireworks lies in the fusion of modern day computational techniques (Gondhia).

Despite the need for further firework technology, it is no doubt that the composition and extensive science behind it is truly amazing. It is interesting to note that only in fireworks, chemists act as pyrotechnics who are attempting to keep a firework from exploding.Even though that seems like the overall goal, fireworks are actually flashiest when they are cooling down, not when they have been initially ignited. To slow down burning, chemists have to use big grains of chemicals and pack it carefully as to ensure that ingredients do not blend. The number of things required of a chemist in order to develop fireworks is truly combustion at its best. Influence on Society Fireworks have played an essential role in society for quite some time. As stated previously, fireworks had originally been used in religious rituals and celebration.

Till this day, it is used in the same way. Although fireworks are enjoyed by all people, the dangers used while operating them is profound. As a result, numerous restrictions have been made on fireworks. These restrictions were made in efforts to keep operators and bystanders safe. However, even with the restrictions placed on fireworks, it is common for people to come by displays quite often. At Chapman alone, I can see fireworks everyday from the top of the parking structure, whether it be from Disneyland or the Grove.Growing up in Hawaii, the blasting of fireworks is the only thing that could be heard on New Years Eve or the Fourth of July.

Even though fireworks provide a fun time for many families, the dangers cannot be ignored. Every New Years Day morning, the radio station manages to report on the numerous accidents that have occurred in the past evening. Little boys have lost their eyes after peering over the firework after its been ignited, while houses have been lit on fire. With this knowledge in mind, it would be best to know the basics on how a firework works so accidents like these can be avoided.There is no doubt that fireworks are a way for people to come together. They can be used for religious purposes or for mere enjoyment with your friends and family. Despite its intended good nature, fireworks may also have a negative impact on the environment.

It has been reported that some fishermen have noticed that firework residues can hurt fish and other water life due to toxic compounds like antimony sulphide. On the other hand, large scale pollution from other sources make it hard to measure what is exactly coming from fireworks (Ibrahaim 214-221).Despite the possible downsides of fireworks, it is no doubt that these designs are truly amazing to watch. Personal View I have not met one person but myself that has grown up in Hawaii, a place fortunate to have legalized firework usage, and has not blown fireworks at some holiday. My mom had always been aware of the statistics and a result, banned them from our household. However, every other person I’ve met disagrees with my mother’s view. As it turns out, fireworks are actually something that brings people together.

It is a way in which families can bond and do something fun together.The question stands, however- is an activity in which brings people together on the most important days of the year worth the potential harm?? Some states would disagree. In fact, fireworks, especially sparklers, are the most dangerous manufactured explosives. According to the center for disease control, over nine thousand people a year are injured as a result of fireworks. Half of those nine thousand are usually children under the age of fourteen (Berger 877-882). Due to these alarming statistics, thirty nine state do not prohibit consumer sales or use of fireworks.These states include New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Delaware.

Few states, on the other hand, such as Ohio, Vermont, and Illinois only allow novelty items such as sparklers (“The Fight Over Fireworks- Should Fireworks Be Banned? ”). Due to each state’s individual laws on fireworks, some states have had a hard time controlling the usage of fireworks. Several people have actually bought fireworks in other states and used them in their own, as buying fireworks, but not using them was deemed illegal. Due to this problem, I believe it would be easier to make one general law.Even though fireworks may be dangerous, it would still be best to allow consumers to use basic fireworks, sparklers, and firecrackers. For obvious reasons, aerial fireworks should be banned in all states for consumer use, as they are the most complicated to use and as a result, operators are more prone to be harmed. To avoid future accidents, it would be best that permits to purchase fireworks are required.

This would then ensure that only legal fireworks are being purchased and children under the age of eighteen will be unable to purchase it for themselves.Even though the dangers of fireworks are still present, it is best to be aware of the dangers of everything in our world. Everything around us is potentially harmful, we merely have to learn how to use it properly. As a result, I disagree with the complete banning of fireworks. Rather, sales should be monitored carefully and people, especially children, should be informed about the potential harm that can be associated with the use of fireworks. In addition, parents should also make sure to keep a watchful eye on their child when they’re around these explosive devices.

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Physical And Chemical Properties Of Fireworks. (2018, Dec 07). Retrieved from

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