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Discover the Flaming Colors of Fireworks

by Teisha Rowland, PhD
Active Time
20-30 minutes
Total Project Time
45 minutes to 1 hour
Key Concepts
chemicals, metal salts, fire, atoms, energy
Photo of multicolored fireworks at night.

Introduction

Have you ever watched a fireworks show and wondered how all the different colors — amazing reds, yellows, oranges, blues, purples, greens, and more — are made? The color, or colors, that a firework makes depends on what color-producing chemicals are in the firework. These chemicals are various metal salts that burn when the firework goes off, and burning the metals is what makes the colors. Different metals give off different, specific colors. In this science activity, you will get to burn some metal salts at home to investigate what colors they make. Then, at the next fireworks show, you can impress friends and family with your knowledge of what may be causing some of the colors they see!

Credits

Teisha Rowland, PhD, Science Buddies

Materials

  • Chemicals to burn, specifically table salt and copper sulfate.
    • Table salt is technically called sodium chloride.
    • Copper sulfate is available through pet or aquarium stores to combat algae, or through home improvement stores as a root killer. Make sure the product is pure copper sulfate and that it is in powder or small crystals form.
    • Alternatively, if you would like these chemicals plus two other colorful, hard-to-find metal salts and some safety equipment all in one convenient package, try the Rainbow Fire kit from the Science Buddies Store.
  • Small plastic bag
  • Bamboo skewers (at least 6)
  • White glue
  • Candle
  • Matches or lighter
  • Container of water
  • An outdoor surface you can safely burn a candle on when it is dark outside (or twilight). Be sure it is in an open area to allow good air flow.
  • Adult helper
  • Recommended: Disposable gloves, dishwashing gloves are a fine alternative. These are for handling the copper sulfate.
  • Recommended: Safety goggles
  • Optional: Flashlight
  • Optional: Masking tape and pen or marker to label the skewers with the chemical names
    Materials for doing flame tests to see which metal salts produce which flame colors for fireworks.
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Active Time
20-30 minutes
Total Project Time
45 minutes to 1 hour
Key Concepts
chemicals, metal salts, fire, atoms, energy