The Chemistry of Firework Colors

Though the Chinese initially created the firecracker, the Italians developed the modern firecracker that shoots up into the sky and explodes into a fountain of yellows and oranges. They used it as the Chinese had once done, at festivals. Years later, as the fireworks were mixed with different substances, blues, reds, and greens were seen. Before you can understand how these colors were created, however, you must first learn how a firework works.

The insides of a firework must have at least six ingredients: fuel, oxidizing agents, reducing agents, regulators, coloring agents, and a binder. These combined will give one the desired result. The fuel in a firework is most commonly charcoal, as it was for the early Chinese. This fuel when heated releases atoms from the oxidizer, forming stable bonds between the fuel and oxygen. When the combustion starts, this mixture vaporizes into the flame. The Oxidizing agents make the oxygen that is needed for the firework to burn. The reducing agents burn that produced oxygen. To adjust the speed of the reaction, scientists include regulators, or metals, according to the collision theory (the larger the metal, the faster the reaction). Binders are used to hold everything together so that it will be compact enough to produce an explosion.

Now how are they actually made? In a firecracker, you need a fuse, the ingredients, a launch tube, stars, a time delay use, and a break. These all work together to produce the desired results. The original fuse is the one that is lit and causes the powder to explode, pushing the firecracker into the air. For the fuse to work though, the ingredients must be tightly packed into a launch tube, or not enough energy would be created to produce lift charge. Stars are tiny agents that are placed with the powder in order to make a shape when the firework explodes. They can make your hearts, planets, and stars. The time delay fuse is the fuse that is also lit when on the ground, but does not totally ignite until the firework is at the desired place in the air. The break is the last part needed for a firework. It mandates where and at what strength the firework explodes.

The most important part of a firework is color. How exciting would it be to shoot of fireworks, and there only be a sound, no colors? There are two main things that are needed to produce color. They are incandescence and luminescence. At the beginning, as formerly stated, only oranges and yellows were produced in the night sky. Now, because of these devices, there are many colors viewed.

Incandescence is the light that is made because of heat. Heat causes a substance to emit light, the more heat, the more light. A different color will appear at different heats. For example, if the temperature is around 850 Kelvin, a dark red color would be seen. The method of incandescence can only be used for the colors yellow-red, including white. The blue and purples are made through luminescence. Luminescence produces light through something other than heat. It requires released energy, which determines its wavelength, and subsequently, its color. Also, to obtain certain colors, you must mix certain compounds. For instance, to make red, you need a mixture of Strontium and Lithium salts in order for the right chemical reactions to occur.

Fireworks have been one of the world’s biggest amusements throughout time. It has taken a lot of work and thought though to make that burst of color in the night sky. So next time you watch a firework show, or shoot one off yourself, remember how they are made, how they began, and what happens before you see that beautiful umbrella of color.