Web Quest
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   Resources
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   Process
   Evaluation
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An Internet WebQuest

THE CHEMISTRY OF FIREWORKS

Introduction

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.

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Task

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 chemistry.

Objectives

  • Research the history and the chemistry of fireworks.
  • Identify the parts of modern fireworks.
  • Describe the chemical compounds that are responsible for the colors seen in fireworks.

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Resources

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 question 10.

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Time

1 class period for research and answering the set of questions

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Process

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.

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Evaluation
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for Rubric

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 of Fireworks

  1. 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 colors seen.
  2. Most historians agree that fireworks were first invented by the Chinese about 1,000 years ago.
  3. It is believed that the Italians were the first Europeans to master fireworks.
  4. a combustion reaction
  5. Black powder (also known as gunpowder) is made up of potassium nitrate, charcoal (carbon), and sulfur in a 75:15:10 ratio by weight.
  6. Incandescence (blackbody radiation), atomic emission, and molecular emission
  7. The colors of fireworks are largely the result of the burning of tiny particles of metallic compounds.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 air.
  10. See the table below. You may wish to help students name compounds that are listed only by chemical formula.

Color Compound Name Chemical Formula

Color Compound Name Chemical Formula
Blue Copper acetoarsenate

C4H6As6Cu4O14 CuCO3, CuS, CuC2O4

Turquoise Copper(1) chloride CuCl
Yellow Cryolite Na3AlF6 NaHCO3, NaNO3, NaClO4
Pink   CaCO3, CaSO4, CaC2O4
Red Lithium carbonate Li2CO3
Brilliant red Anhydrous strontium carbonate

Sr(NO3)2 SrCO3

Green Barium carbonate

BaCO3 Ba(NO3)2, Ba(ClO3)2

Bright green Barium chloride BaCl2
Purple  

Sr and Cu compounds with calomel (deepens color)

White   Mg and Al compounds

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Conclusion

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.

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