Fireworks Lab: Rainbow Chemistry Demonstration

Perform a tabletop chem demo that shows how fireworks colors are created.
Perform a tabletop chem demo that shows how fireworks colors are created. Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Make a rainbow of colored fire by burning a row of chemicals. Place small piles of the colored fire powder onto a fire-safe surface and connect them to each other by running a strip of paper through the piles of chemicals. When you are ready to perform the project, light one end of the paper and allow it to sequentially burn the piles of chemicals in a colored fire rainbow.

Prepare the Paper Fuse

Soak a piece of filter paper or coffee filter in a concentrated potassium nitrate solution.

Allow it to dry completely before use.

Preparing the Color Chemicals

This project uses the same metal salts that produce the colors seen in fireworks. Each chemical used as an ingredient should be in finely ground form. If you need to grind a chemical, do it separately from any other chemical (in other words: don't grind the mixture together). Mix the ingredients for each pile by placing them together on a large sheet of paper and rocking the paper back and forth until the pile has a uniform appearance. Dump the pile of chemicals onto the fireproof surface. Use a clean sheet of paper for each mixture so that the colors won't be contaminated.

The ingredients are listed as ratios, to be measured in powdered form. It's a good idea to use a small measuring spoon, both to avoid wasting chemicals and to keep the fire manageable.

White Fire

  • 7 parts potassium nitrate
  • 1 part sulfur
  • 1 part antimony sulfide

    Purple Fire

    • 1 part copper sulfate
    • 1 part sulfur
    • 1 part potassium chlorate

    Blue Fire

    • 8 parts potassium chlorate
    • 4 parts sulfur
    • 2 parts copper sulfide
    • 2 parts mercurous chloride
    • 1 part copper oxide
    • 1 part charcoal

    Green Fire

    • 12 parts barium nitrate
    • 3 parts potassium chlorate
    • 2 parts sulfur

    Yellow Fire

    • 6 parts potassium chlorate
    • 2 parts sodium oxalate
    • 2 parts charcoal
    • 1 part sulfur

    Red Fire

    • 4 parts strontium nitrate
    • 4 parts potassium chlorate
    • 2 parts charcoal
    • 1 part sulfur

    Safety

    It's a good idea to wear a mask when mixing the chemicals to avoid inhaling them. Also, wear gloves to avoid unnecessary skin contact. For the most part, these chemicals are relatively non-toxic. The notable exception is the mercurous chloride. This chemical may be omitted; the resulting flame will still be blue. This project is best performed by persons with chemistry expertise or pyrotechnics experience.

    Source:

    • Chemical Magic, 2nd Ed., Leonard A. Ford (1993) Dover Publications.

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