The Art of Pyrotechnics
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I have always been fascinated with fire, but fireworks take the cake. If you are close enough you can hear the sound of it whistling through the air before the big BOOM that fills the sky with radiant colors. That boom is what really gets my heart pumping. The colorful, sparkling display of light is not only awe inspiring, but represents a feeling of celebration and wonderland. I can’t help but to think about how exciting it must be to design a fireworks show. The timing, the colors, the shapes we can make are all part of the art that is…blowing stuff up.

There are many different types of fireworks including sparklers, skyrockets, and flying spinners. The color is created by heating the metal salts. Red is caused by strontium and lithium salts, orange by calcium salts, yellow by sodium salts, green by barium and chlorine, blue by copper and chlorine, purple by mixing the red and blue strontium and copper compounds, and silver by aluminum, titanium, or magnesium. The reaction can be explained by the basic chemistry of oxidation and reduction reactions. The appearance is determined by how the components are arranged in the shell. Timing the ignition is done with different types of fuses or with a control panel designed to ignite them from a distance.

Fireworks are not the only pyrotechnics that we get to enjoy. They are also special effects that are used in film to simulate explosions, smoke, and flames. Flames can also be used for a dramatic effect on stage during a concert. Performance can be illuminated for fire dancers with choreographed routines to music. Fire eating or fire breathing is not just for the circus, but also used in flair bar tending. Just as the color of fireworks is determined by the metal salts that are heated, the color and amount of heat produced by fire is determined by what chemical is ignited.
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Before you decide to start lighting things on fire, remember that you are setting off dangerous chemical reactions as beautiful as they can be. Fire needs three things to survive: oxygen, fuel, and heat. All of the ingredients are present and available to cause a potential for disaster. Pyrotechnicians are responsible for the safe storage, handling, and functioning of their devices just as you should be with home fireworks. That being said, try not to burn the neighborhood down or blow yourself up. The ability to control the chemical reactions is what makes pyrotechnics both an art and a science.

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