Most of our little students here at Premier Academy come back from Fourth of July celebrations talking about the bright lights, the loud booms, and with lots of questions about how all of that works.
In case your preschooler still has questions, here are some answers you can share with them.
What do I smell?
Not every child is able to sit close enough to fireworks to realize they don’t smell like the backyard campfire, but if any fireworks have been set off in your neighborhood, there’s a chance your child wondered what that smell was.
Fireworks are made out of black powder, which is also part of the ingredients used for gunpowder and is very explosive. Black powder is made up of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. Saltpeter can be said to be produced by bacteria. There’s more to it than that, but we don’t want to confuse the little one too much. Sulfur is known for its bad, rotten-egg-like smell, and charcoal might be something Daddy uses in his grill.
How do they get the colors?
Sure, we all see yellow, orange, and red flames when we stare into the fireplace, but how do the fireworks come out so predictably and faithfully red, white, blue, green, and purple?
This is where you can get your kids more interested in chemistry because that’s where you start playing with the color of fire. The chemicals that go into the firework determine what colors it will display.
Sodium (salt) will create orange and yellow fireworks while aluminum and magnesium make them white. Green and red are both made with special chemical compounds using barium for green and lithium for red. The most difficult color to create is blue, which requires careful mixing and a lot of knowledge. Chemicals used in the blue fireworks include copper and chloride.
How do they make them do that?
The fancier fireworks will often have more than one explosion. There might be an initial starburst followed by a stream of squealing pieces which each explode in their own, smaller starbursts. This would be called a three-event firework.
To make these, the firework is packed in three stages. The top stage would be the one that produces the tiny starbursts. The middle stage would create the screamers, and the bottom stage is the initial starburst that carries the whole array into the sky.
When the firework is shot up into the sky, the fuse is lit. It burns its way up the wick until it reaches the first stage, causing the big starburst in the sky. In this particular case, this would free the screamers from the casing and light them up at the same time. By the time they’re done screaming, the fuse has burned all the way to the third and innermost stage, which sets off the tiny starbursts.
Now that you know more about how fireworks function, you can decide for yourself which questions your child asked most and help them decode some of the mystery, and science, behind the magic of our Independence Day.