Fireworks: Basics of sparklers and fire crackers

Every one of us might have enjoyed  the sight of fireworks sparkling all over the sky during festivities. Firework is one interesting happening that captures the hearts of both children and adults. There must definitely be some science behind this. There are two different things – sparklers and fire crackers. Sparklers produce brilliant light and crackers produce explosion.




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Sparklers are chemical mixtures molded onto a stick or wire that could be held in our hand while burning. We know that a fuel, oxygen are needed for the process of combustion. The fuel used in sparklers is charcoal or sulfur.  Oxidizers like nitrates, chlorates and per chlorates help produce oxygen to burn the chemical mixture. All these chemicals are mixed using water. Binders like starch or sugar are normally used to hold the mixture together. This mixture is applied on sticks or coated on wires. Once they dry, they form sparklers. The sparklers may also contain flakes of metals like aluminium, iron, steel, zinc or magnesium dust for bright shimmering sparks.



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Fire crackers are simply gunpowder wrapped tightly in a paper with a fuse on the top. When the fuse is lighted, it supplies heat to the gun powder which is nothing but 75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal and 10% sulfur. Charcoal is the fuel, potassium nitrate acts as oxidizer and produces oxygen for combustion. On combustion, carbon in charcoal reacts with potassium nitrate to form nitrogen, potassium sulfide and carbon dioxide gas. Explosion is caused due to expanding nitrogen and carbon dioxide.



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Having understood how the fire crackers work, it is simple to understand how an aerial fire cracker works. These are the crackers that fly into the sky and then sparkle or explode. They also use gunpowder as the basic fuel for their launching activity and explosion. When the fuse is lighted, instead of explosion happening, the firework gets propelled into the sky. This is because there is a hole at the bottom which causes nitrogen and carbon dioxide to escape outward and help in pushing the firework into the sky. Once propelled gunpowder and oxidizer produces sparkles in the sky.


The combination of fuel and oxidizer causes explosions or just sparkles depending on how they are proportioned along with the other chemicals.

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