Let’s ignite some metal salts!

Who thinks of that? Seriously.

“Yeah. Hang on, Yang. I want to see what happens when I light up this sodium nitrate.”

Was this how fireworks started back in the 600s in China? (Actually, I’m sure it had something to do with gunpowder, ordinance and other accouterments of war, but let me be naive for a second.) Leave it to humans to be bored with the stars and the occasional meteor shower. We need something bigger and brighter people. Something with panache. I want DRAMA!

Since their inception, these pyrotechnic displays seem to exist for the sole purpose of titillating people and adorning the sky during celebrations. Spring and Mid-Autumn festival. Independence days, the Olympics, George Washington’s inauguration (as if he hadn’t had enough of explosions). Fireworks are nearly synonymous with celebration. Although here in San Diego, Sea World has firework displays running every night of the week during the summer months leading up to Labor Day. It seems so odd, random, almost frivolous for these shows to occur with no apparent purpose. Instead of signifying something special, they become commonplace for a time, before fading away into the fall.

Curious about the colors? They are all derived from metal salts, which burn at different temperatures to emit various wavelengths. High energy typically equals shorter wavelengths, and faster fades. Think your magnesiums, copper chlorides, cesium nitrates; white, blue and indigo, respectively. Conversely, lower energy outputs last a bit longer and emits longer wavelengths. These would be your lithium carbonates, and calcium and sodium chlorides; red, orange, and yellow, respectively.

My cheeky attitude aside, fireworks are pretty damned cool. The glitter, the sonic boom, the smoky trails smudging the sky. The waiting for more, an eager anticipation of what the finale might bring.

If you’re super nutty about fireworks, get yourself a membership to the Pyrotechnics Guild International. Not interested in becoming a member? You can donate to the “Help-a-Pyro” program.


2 thoughts on “Let’s ignite some metal salts!

  1. O.M.G. =) I was a member of PGI !!! Years ago – and through them I attended a Chemistry of Pyrotechnics course taught by an explosives expert from the FBI. Just about died lmao when, during a demonstration of the potency of various oxidizers, a gummy bear came shooting out of a test tube with his head on fire. Maybe you had to be there… 😉

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