When we think of fireworks, we usually think of giant explosions in the night sky that come in different sizes, colors, and shapes. These are aerial fireworks. Aerial fireworks consist of a container, stars, a bursting charge, and a fuse. Just below the shell is a small cylinder that contains the lifting charge. The shell is launched from a mortar. When it is launched, the explosion of the powder inside the mortar ignites the shell’s fuse. Once the shell reaches the required height, it ignites the bursting charge. This sends the stars flying in all directions. The stars then ignite, setting off chemical reactions that create different effects. The shape of the fireworks is dependent on the stars’ position inside the firework. If they are placed in an exact circle, then the stars will ignite in the sky in a circle as well. The different colors of fireworks were extracted from different metals to create yellow, red, and more colors.

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The outside of a firework shell.

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The interior of a firework shell.

The Colors and Shapes of Fireworks
The colors of the fireworks are produced from different metals that are heated in a flame. The different materials that are best used for the colors are CuCI for blue, SrCI for red, and Na atoms for yellow. The many different shapes of fireworks depend on the stars’ placement inside of the firework, as mentioned above. For a heart shape, the stars are glued to a paper in a heart pattern. For a green willow shape, long lasting sparklers are created by replacing the stars metal fuses with charcoal. The charcoal makes the stars burn slower, so they float through the air longer and seem to form a willow in the sky. Lots of other ways are also used to create different effects.

The History of Fireworks
Fireworks were dated back to the 7th century in China, where they were invented. The Chinese used them to celebrate important holidays. Eventually, other cultures also began using fireworks. The Chinese fireworks began to gain popularity in the 17th century. Europe had already obviously been making fireworks, because many people that visited China had related to their own fireworks while comparing them to China’s.

Firecrackers and Sparklers
Firecrackers consist of either black powder or flash powder in a tight paper tube with a fuse. Sparklers, however, are very different from firecrackers. They consist of a fuel, an oxidizer, iron or steel powder, and a binder. They burn long and bright, unlike firecrackers, that may last a few seconds. Both sparklers and firecrackers are used to celebrate important holidays in many cultures. Remember, they are still fireworks!

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A firework display near a lake.

Fun Facts on Fireworks
Here are some interesting facts about fireworks that you may not know about fireworks:
  • The largest firework rocket ever created weighed 13.40 kilograms. It was launched in Portugal at the 12th International Symposium of Fireworks.
  • The largest firework display consisted of 66, 326 fireworks and was achieved by “Macedo’s Pirotecnia Lda” in Funcho, Madeira, Portugal, on December 31, 2006.
  • The most firework rockets intentionally launched in 30 seconds is 125,801, in an attempt organized by Pyroworks International Inc. (Philippines), in Cebu, Philippines, on May 8, 2010.
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A group of people setting up a fireworks display.

  • Mortar – a short, steel pipe filled with a lifting charge of black powder, used for launching aerial fireworks
  • Stars – spheres, cubes, or cylinders of a sparkler-like composition inside fireworks
  • Black Powder – gunpowder
  • Chemical Reaction – a process in which more than one substance are chemically changed into another one

  • Fecht, Sarah. “The Science of Fireworks.” Popular Mechanics 2011. 15 September 2012

  • How Stuff Works. “How Fireworks Work”. How Stuff Works. 2012. Web. September 19, 2012

  • Selinger, Ben. Chemistry in the Marketplace. Marrickville. Penny Martin. 1998. Print.

  • Wikipedia. “Fireworks”. Wikipedia. Wikipedia. September 18, 2012. Web. September 19, 2012