Category Archives: About

The Wonder of Fireworks

Fireworks. Everyone has seen them and/or used them. More recently, during Chinese New Year break, I watched as people bought fireworks by the box-loads and set them off with the excitement of 6-year old boy playing with an action figure he got for his birthday. As the constant sound of fireworks continued for days, even on the last night before school as I was trying to sleep (and as I write this post), I wondered how do fireworks work and why do we get so excited by watching them?

The mechanism of aerial fireworks is much like that of a rocket. In its simplest form, it is made up of two stages. The first is the propulsion section that is filled with gunpowder with a small hole in the bottom, which when combusts, releases the products carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas out of the hole to send the firework high into the air (this is sometimes replaced with compressed air, for safety reasons). The second stage contains the bits that you see as clouds of color. A fuse leads into the section that ignites the black powder, exploding the container (which is what you hear), sending the “stars” containing the salts in all directions giving off the colors as they do so. This is where the chemistry comes in. The colors are produced when atoms in the metal salts absorb the energy of the explosion, exciting the electrons. The electrons move to a higher-energy state and as they return to a lower-energy state that is more stable, they emit the light that we see (as demonstrated by the Bohr model). The amount of energy released depends on the compound used, and this in turn determines the color of light emitted. The colors range from red at the least amount of energy emitted to purple at the other end of what is the visible light spectrum.

firework1

So, now that we know how they work, why the fascination? If we were to use logic and reason as a way of knowing in this situation, we would find that it is quite pointless wasting both time and money to light explosives just to see the pretty colors that they create. After all, it is just a bunch of heated salt flying through the air after the explosion of a rocket. However, it is the creative side in us that causes this wonder of fireworks. It is a combination of sense perception and emotion that lead us to watch these shows of explosive art. Yves Pépin, a fireworks artist, puts it this way: “I think one reason people continue to be fascinated with fireworks is that they remain incomprehensible, even though people know how they work. They are a chain of chemical reactions that begins with a spark on the ground and ends in flashes of light several hundred meters in the air. But there is something sufficiently nature-defying so that it remains magical.” Thus, we appreciate fireworks much in the same way as we do art. It is the irrationally in us, that makes us spend millions on satisfying something that logic and reason just cannot explain.

Fireworks_thumb_xPsE5g

Finally, what does this means for us IB Chem students? It means that the concepts that we are learning in class are not just to memorize and re-iterate for a good grade, but are actually used in real life in a very relatable way. As these fireworks displays continue for the next few days, until the people setting them off run out of money or the stores run out of fireworks (whichever comes first), we can look at these fireworks with the thought that we know the science behind them. Furthermore, this is an example of us asking why we do certain things and linking the science behind it. It is part of the quest to continually ask What? and Why?

Works Cited:

http://chemistry.about.com/od/howthingswork/a/fireworks.htm

http://chemistry.about.com/od/fireworkspyrotechnics/a/fireworkcolors.htm

http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/chemweek/fireworks/fireworks.htm

http://www.time.com/time/europe/specials/ff/trip4/pepin.html

Semester Reflection: Our learner profile

As we end our first semester of IB Chemistry I can’t help but reflect on the quality of thinking demonstrated by the new owners of Chemical Paradigms. They had a strong act to follow, but you have to be impressed by the way they have stepped up to the challenge.

As a class, you are definitely becoming a community of independent thinkers, but you each have your own unique voice. You have tackled some complex science topics, and worked hard to deepen your knowledge and application of science to the real world, your world. Most importantly you have been open to sharing your new ideas and different ways of thinking.

To celebrate your work nominate the blog/s that you think best demonstrate the characteristics, we value most. A blog could be nominated for one or more of these categories.

  • Curiosity: Their research shows a love and enjoyment of learning.
  • Knowledge: Explored concepts, ideas and issues that have local and/or global significance.
  • Thinking: Use their thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex ideas and issues in Science.
  • Communication: Understand and express ideas and information confidently and clearly.
  • Open-mindedness: They seek out points of view that are different to their own. For example different academic traditions, cultures, and experiences.
  • Risk Taking: They approach unfamiliar or challenging topics with an independent spirit.
  • Reflective: They give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experience. They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations.
  • TOK Talk: Integrated TOK and Science thinking skills
  • Connections: Able to make strong connections between science and other area of knowledge.

So, spend a moment reflecting, and with strong justification (of course) nominate a blog you think best represents the spirit of that category.

Nominations due by Sunday December 18th

Let’s Celebrate

As we end our first year of IB Chemistry I can’t help but reflect on the quality of thinking demonstrated by the authors of Chemical Paradigms.

From our initial conversations about the nature of science we have grown into community of independent thinkers, each with our own unique voice. We have tackled some complex science topics, deepened our knowledge and understanding, thought about how and what we know, broadened our perspectives, and most importantly shown an openness to new ideas and different ways of thinking.

To celebrate our creativity and passion lets recognize the blogs which you think most expanded our thinking about science, represent the clarity of ideas and sound reasoning we value, were the most interesting, captivated our imagination, offered the strongest justification and empowered us to think (and possibly even act) differently.

So, spend a moment reflecting. Nominate a particular blog and explain why you think it best represents the voice of Chemical Paradigms. Remember to focus on the big ideas and the contribution made to expanding our knowledge.