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Real-World Connections: The Science of Fireworks!

Posted by EiE Team on Friday, July 2, 2021

As the 4th of July holiday rolls near and we prepare for firework shows across the country, curious minds everywhere have an opportunity to make a scientific connection to the lights in the sky! Did you know fireworks are a prime example of thermodynamics, chemistry and math? It takes a lot of STEM lessons to make those pyrotechnic shows come to life!

Here’s how:

→ The colors! Fireworks get their colors from the chemicals stored inside pellets, which are launched into the air and explode. Barium produces a green color, strontium creates red, calcium ignites orange, sodium is yellow and copper makes blue. In different combinations, the chemicals mix and create each color you see in the sky! Chemists had to study these elements to learn what they could create. 


→ The launch and explosion! Creating a shell that is light enough to launch into the air and can be ignited to cause an explosion required the minds of engineers to study which materials and process would be best — and safest — for handling fire that lights up the sky. Handling burst charges and explosions can be all in a day’s work for engineers with a flare for entertainment.


→ The timing and design! It took lots of equations, experiments and repeating the engineering design process to figure out the calculations that create different shapes and designs in the air. How do these shows line up with music cues, or know how to make an explosion in the shape of a smiley face? Math and science magic! 

Check out this video by Scientific American explaining more details of how fireworks work!

Whether you’re preparing for summer sessions, satisfying your own child’s curiosity or passing this resource to families who may want it, we hope you’re able to use this holiday activity to create a real-world STEM connection for the learners in your life. And remember, science is everywhere!

Written by EiE Team

Topics: museum of science

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