With the arrival of the infamous Freshers Week and plenty of ceremonious academic year beginnings, it’s important to start with a bang – a loud and colourful one at that! I’m talking about the bang that lights up the sky on a low-light night, sprinkling glitter everywhere as if God has taken up arts and crafts and went a little crazy with those sparkly tubes of paint. So how exactly does it all work?
In the most basic sense, fireworks are a sort of mini explosive that, depending on their design and on their resulting journey in the sky, will create a multitude of beautiful effects.The explosive material itself is a type of pyrotechnic star that is primed with black powder and put into a firework- ready for blast off!
Originally invented in China, fireworks used to consist of bamboo branches that burnt ferociously, resulting in a loud banging noise. This startling sound was let out from the growing pockets of air in the plant’s stems that would eventually succumb to the energetic power of the red-hot flames.
Now, fireworks essentially take the original idea of exploiting air pockets, but instead adding an extra twist by playing with the electromagnetic spectrum and metal salts. This conjures up a beautiful range of colours and, by playing with the pyrotechnic stars, creates miraculous looking effects such as the chrysanthemum-inspired fireworks.
So what happens inside a firework when you set it off? Each fireworks display is an intricate and alternating dance between fuses and charges. Fuses will enable the chemical component of a firework to reach a charge. It is the reaching of this charge that will trigger an important and noticeable action of the firework.
Setting off a firework begins with lighting the fuse. This fuse is central to igniting what’s called the lift charge. The lift charge is what propels the shell of the firework into the sky. Contained within the shell is a chemically creative mixture of pyrotechnic stars. Upon being propelled into the sky, the shell will travel higher and higher upwards until it reaches a certain height, at which point the timed fuse will activate the burst charge. It is only upon reaching this charge that the stars held within the shells will explode into the sky, leaving a colourful showcase trailing behind it.
Within the space of one or two minutes, the firework’s magic has been ignited and enjoyed. These mini explosions may not be on the same scale as warfare bombs, but the excitement they evoke is quite the catalyst for awestruck wonder.