Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July!

It's really appropriate that we use fireworks to celebrate the 4th of July, a day when we declared our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. Why? Because of the chemistry involved in fireworks.

Basically, without getting OVERLY nerdy (let's keep it to an "I'm interesting at cocktail parties" minimum, here, people), there's an oxidizer (stuff that acts as fuel and produces oxygen) and a reduction agent (something that eats up the oxygen). You might remember from chemistry that within an atom, there's a nucleus with some protons in it and the electrons in orbits around the nucleus. Well, a firework's color comes from those electrons becoming excited and unstable (due to the reaction between the oxidizer and reduction agent). When they're excited, then jump to a higher energy level and exhibit some sort of color. They're doing their own demonstration of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War that followed!

What color it is depends on what element or compound is used. Check out the chart below:
Color Compound
strontium salts, lithium salts
lithium carbonate, Li2CO3 = carmine red
strontium carbonate, SrCO3 = bright scarlet red
Orange calcium salts
calcium chloride, CaCl2
calcium sulfate, CaSO4·xH2O, where x = 0,2,3,5
Gold incandescence of iron (with carbon), charcoal, or lampblack
Yellow sodium compounds
sodium nitrate, NaNO3
cryolite, Na3AlF6
Electric White white-hot metal, such as magnesium or aluminum
barium oxide, BaO
Green barium compounds + chlorine producer
barium chloride, BaCl+ = bright green
Blue copper compounds + chlorine producer
copper acetoarsenite (Paris Green), Cu3As2O3Cu(C2H3O2)2 = blue
copper (I) chloride, CuCl = turquoise blue
Purple mixture of strontium (red) and copper (blue) compounds
Silver burning aluminum, titanium, or magnesium powder or flakes

I only beg to differ (on behalf of my chemistry teacher, Mrs. Bachman) in a few areas, but thank you
copper = green
cobalt =blue
potassium = purple

So when you're watching the fireworks tonight (weather permitting of course) and you want to seem like a big nerd, yell out the names of the appropriate elements as their corresponding fireworks colors light up the sky. Happy 4th!

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