Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

BOOM!

Between Canada Day (July 1) and U.S. Independence Day (today, the Fourth of July), lots of North Americans are going to see displays of fireworks this weekend. I absolutely love watching fireworks in person! Did you ever what makes them explode, whistle and sizzle? What makes a “chrysanthemum” different from a “Roman candle”?

Of course, it’s all chemistry. If you are interested in the subject, I’ve got a few links for your pyrotechnic pleasure.

Last night I was watching a National Geographic episode of “Naked Science” titled “Secret World of Fireworks.” (Note to self: Any title beginning with “Secret World of…” is bound to get attention!) The hour-long show focused on the Zambelli family of New Castle, Pa., one of the biggest names in the pyro business (in high demand on days like today). I thought the episode went into enormous detail about the chemicals needed for fireworks — though if you tried (without the appropriate license) to order these items yourself from a chemical supplier, you might find yourself being investigated. Don’t try this at home, kidderoonies.

(Disclaimer: Every summer I go camping in western Pennsylvania not too far from New Castle. In 2013, a campground right off Interstate 79 is going to host the annual convention of the Pyrotechnics Guild International, so if you are a fireworks enthusiast, mark it on your calendars now.)

Another excellent resource, with lots of good links, is the Scientific American “Observations” blog post on fireworks chemistry. In one of those links, science blogger Janet Stemwedel of San Jose State University goes into more detail about the chemistry, although she doesn’t care for the loud bangs that I adore (and my pets don’t either).

In other news … the Boston Globe takes a look at the master pyrotechnician behind the Esplanade fireworks on the Fourth of July. Boston’s annual Pops concerts at the Hatch Shell were my introduction to big-city fireworks way back when I was a Boston University student, although, in those Cold War days, I always used to wonder why the explosions went off to the “1812 Overture,” which of course was written to celebrate a Russian victory over the French, who helped us win our independence. Ah, well.

Finally, Wired Science delves into the DIY fireworks scene, as built by members of the earlier mentioned Pyrotechnics Guild International. Maybe I ought to check out that August 2013 meeting myself….

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