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Behind the artistry, chemistry of fireworks displays, and how it involves all 5 senses

Sacramento Bee logo Sacramento Bee 3 days ago David Caraccio, The Sacramento Bee

Fireworks are the result of a combustion reaction where oxygen and other fuels are added together to create light, color, sound, propulsion and more for all of our senses, explains Paul Smith, director of lecture demonstrations in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University.

He also serves as president of the Pyrotechnics Guild International and has been working with pyrotechnics professionally for more than 30 years.

In this video, Smith breaks down the artistry and sensory experience of a fireworks show and how it is created.

Fireworks are the result of a combustion reaction where oxygen and other fuels are added together to create light, color, sound, propulsion and more, Smith says. Fireworks are appealing because it’s the large-scale result of the chemical interaction between molecules and atoms the human eye can’t see. Different elements emit certain colors.

Smith says the use of strontium puts off red, barium emits green, copper is used for blue, calcium for orange and sodium gives off yellow.

The most fascinating part of a fireworks show for Smith is how it involves all five senses. He says it’s a live painting in the sky that’s the result of chemists crafting the shell in a certain way.

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