How are fireworks made?
If you took chemistry in college, one of the labs you likely remember most is the famous flame test experiment. In this experiment, different unknown metals are burned and students will identify the metal based on the color of the flame. How does it work? Heating the atoms in the flame excites the electrons. When the electrons are excited, they move to the next orbital, or energy level. As they fall back down to their original energy shell, they release the energy in the form of light.
You can introduce this concept by using fireworks as your phenomena. Different metals are used in fireworks to create the colorful displays. Here is a YouTube clip you can use with students that shows how fireworks are made. (I would show this after the lab. Lead with inquiry!)
Alright, so looking to do this experiment with your students? Below are three options to choose from based on the grade level you teach and the materials you have available:
Flame test three ways:
- OPTION 1: BUNSEN BURNERS: This is the “go big or go home!” option. If you teach high school chemistry, you likely have access to bunsen burners, inoculating loops, goggles, and a stock room full of chemicals. Flinn has a write-up you can use for this experiment that you can download for free here. (Tip: Students need to completely burn the metal off the inoculating loop before moving on to the next metal. It is easy to get cross-contamination and poor results.)
- OPTION 2: KITCHEN CHEMISTRY: If you have limited access to chemicals or bunsen burners, there is a more simplified way of carrying out the experiment. (I’m looking at you middle school teachers!) You can demo the lab using wet popsicle sticks or q-tips and some household chemicals. Find more details from Steve Spangler here.
- OPTION 3: VIRTUAL LAB: If you don’t have access to the necessary chemicals, there is a virtual experiment students can do instead. No safety hazards or clean up! (This is also great for lab make-ups when students are absent). I love that it shows the electrons and orbitals for each atom as they go. You can check out the virtual lab here.