In this WebQuest, students do some Internet research
on the chemistry of fireworks. They learn about the
chemical reactions that are responsible for the explosions
of fireworks. They also learn what chemical compounds
are responsible for the brilliant colors of fireworks.
They discover the components of modern fireworks
and find out what each component does. They also
learn some of the history behind fireworks. Finally,
they answer some questions about fireworks, based
on their Internet research.
While students are doing their Internet research,
they will try to answer the set of questions given.
Each web site has some of the answers to the questions,
but several of the questions require information
from two or more of the web sites. Students should
be able to compile information to answer the questions
as they read through each web site. Although several
of the web sites give very detailed chemical explanations,
students are not expected to reproduce this information.
Rather, they should look for information from which
they can make some generalizations about fireworks
- Research the history and the chemistry
- Identify the parts of modern fireworks.
- Describe the chemical compounds that are
responsible for the colors seen in fireworks.
Students will use the Internet links given to find
out all about the chemistry of fireworks. They will
learn about the history of fireworks and find out
when the first fireworks were invented. They will
learn about the design of modern fireworks. They
will also learn about the chemical compounds that
cause fireworks to explode, and what compounds are
responsible for the colors of modern fireworks. Students
may need help in filling in the table requested in
1 class period for research and answering the set
As students progress through the list of web sites,
you may help them to focus on what they need to know
to answer the questions given. Several of the web
sites have links to other web sites with relevant
information. If time allows, you may want to allow
students to explore this subject further. However,
most of the sites eventually link back to those listed
on the student pages.
You may assign 10 points to each
of the 10 questions for a total of 100 possible points.
The answers to the questions are given below. You
may rate the answer to each question by the following
scale: Excellent – 9-10 points; Very Good – 7-8 points;
Good – 5-6 points; Satisfactory – 3-4 points; Poor – 1-2
points; and Unsatisfactory
– 0 points.
Questions about the Chemistry
- A firework is a rocket; in its most simple form,
it is a tube of rocket fuel, sealed at one end
with a constriction or nozzle at the other end.
When the fuel is burned, it produces gases that
are forced out of the nozzle, propelling the rocket
away from Earth. There are other chemicals in the
nose of the rocket which explode to produce the
- Most historians agree that fireworks were first
invented by the Chinese about 1,000 years ago.
- It is believed that the Italians were the first
Europeans to master fireworks.
- a combustion reaction
- Black powder (also known as gunpowder) is made
up of potassium nitrate, charcoal (carbon), and
sulfur in a 75:15:10 ratio by weight.
- Incandescence (blackbody radiation), atomic emission,
and molecular emission
- The colors of fireworks are largely the result
of the burning of tiny particles of metallic compounds.
- The whistle is produced when the oxidizer and
an organic salt burn a layer at a time and emit
gas in spurts. When the compounds are contained
in a narrow tube, the pulses of escaping gas produce
the whistling sound.
- The components of a modern firework include,
from bottom to top, the following: launch tube,
lift charge, fuse, black powder, break, stars,
time delay fuse. The launch tube is the steel tube
on the ground from which the firework shell is
launched. The lift charge is the explosive at the
bottom of the firework shell that propels the shell
into the air. The fuse consists of wires that connect
the firework to a master control board; electrical
current moves across the wires to create a spark
at the point of contact. Black powder is made up
of potassium nitrate, charcoal (carbon), and sulfur
in a 75:15:10 ratio by weight. Breaks are the separate
compartments in a firework shell that contain a
charge and stars. Stars are lumps made out of perchlorate,
black powder, and the chemical compounds that create
the various colors of fireworks. The time delay
fuses are the fuses that burn down to the breaks
and stars as the firework shell moves through the
- See the table below. You may wish to help students
name compounds that are listed only by chemical
Color Compound Name Chemical
||Anhydrous strontium carbonate
Sr and Cu compounds with
calomel (deepens color)
||Mg and Al compounds
Using information gathered from the Internet, students
should be able to answer the questions given about
the chemistry of fireworks. Students should be able
to draw some conclusions about the type of chemical
compounds that can be burned to produce the colors
of fireworks when they have completed the table for
question 10. Have students note that metals in combination
with carbon, chloride, and nitrogen are responsible
for the colors of fireworks.