How Do Glow Sticks Work?
By Jason H.
this is a man holding a glow stick


Chemiluminescence which occurs in glow sticks is the emission of photons through a chemical reaction. An important property of this form of emission of light is that it produces no heat. In chemiluminescent reactions a molecule is produced with one of its electrons in a higher energy orbit than it would be in its normal state. The electron energy then falls to its normal level. In this process, the glow stick is releasing energy as electromagnetic radiation of a certain wavelength. If the wavelength is in the visible light spectrum, then the reaction produces visible light. This is the reaction that makes glow sticks glow.

The Construction of a Glow Stick

The glow stick contains two chemicals and a fluorescent dye. A glow stick is constructed of a glass vial inside a plastic tube. The chemicals in the plastic tube are a mixture of the dye and phenyl oxalate. The chemical inside the glass vial is hydrogen peroxide.

this is what happens when you bend a glow stick

The Chemistry of Glow Sticks

When you bend a glow stick the glass vial breaks and the hydrogen peroxide is mixed with the phenyl oxalate. A chemical reaction takes place with hydrogen peroxide being the activator and phenyl oxalate being the reactant. The phenyl oxalate is oxidized, yielding two molecules of phenol and one molecule of peroxyacid ester. The peroxyacid decomposes spontaneously to carbon dioxide, releasing energy that excites the dye, which then relaxes by releasing a photon of light. The wavelength of the photon—the color of the emitted light—depends on the structure of the dye. Different dyes are used to make different colors of light for glow sticks.

Things that affect the glow

By adjusting the concentrations of the two chemicals, hydrogen peroxide and phenyl oxalate, you can produce glow sticks that either glow brightly for a short duration of time, or glow more dimly for a longer amount of time. At a maximum concentration typically found in laboratory settings, mixing the chemicals results in a furious reaction, producing large amounts of light for a few seconds. Temperature also affects the glow. As with most chemical reactions, the rate of the chemical reaction producing light from a glow sticks increases with higher temperature. If you place a glow stick in a cold temperature then the chemical reaction rate will slow down. For every 10 degree F increase in temperature, the rate of reaction for light production doubles.
this is how temptaure afects the glow of a glow stick

Chemiluminescence – a chemical reaction that creates photons
Phenyl oxalate - A chemical that is made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen
Emissions - substances that are discharged
Hydrogen peroxide - a heavy colorless liquid, H2O2, used in chemical reactions as an oxidizing agent or as a bleach and can be explosive in certain situations
Oxidizing - to combine with oxygen

"chemiluminescence." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School EditionEncyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2011. Web. 22 Sept. 2011.

Marsal Brains, How Stuff Works, NY NY, 2003, print,

“How Glow Sticks Work.” Glow Stick Factory,2011, Web. 9/22/2011.