Fireworks and the WOW Factor

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I don’t know about you, but I am a huge fan of low explosive pyrotechnic devices. You know, fireworks!

I’ve been known to sit patiently for hours with one million-plus other fireworks lovers, waiting to see big city Independence Day displays. However, my “bucket” list still includes the largest, biggest, and best display the U.S. has to offer – and it’s not associated with the 4th of July! It’s Thunder Over Louisville, part of the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Opening Ceremony.

Rated one of the top 100 events in North America, Thunder Over Louisville includes an amazing air show by day, followed by a tremendous 28-minute firework show orchestrated by the famed Zambelli family…it’s the largest annual pyrotechnic display in North America! If that sounds just a little enticing, the date of next year’s show is April 27, and here’s the website so you can check it out:

http://www.thunderoverlouisville.org

Have you ever wondered what makes fireworks “work?”

The colors you see are produced by heating metals and salts at just the right temperatures. While the recipes vary somewhat, the basic elements used to create the fireworks are pretty much standard:

aluminum, magnesium and titanium – white
strontium – red
barium – green
sodium – yellow
copper – blue

The metal salts are first mixed with an oxidizer, and then water is added to bind the materials together. The oxidizers contain excess oxygen, and are used to obtain the proper temperature for the reaction, according to Paul Worsey, who teaches Commercial Pyrotechnics Operarations at the University of Missouri-Rolla. And that is where this morphs from a chemistry exercise to a true art form.

Have you noticed that you see a lot of red and green fireworks, but not so much blue? That’s because blue is tough to produce properly.

In fact, Worsey says blue is the most difficult color to make because the temperature of the reaction has to be absolutely perfect to obtain the desired result. If it burns too hot, the blue is washed out – too cool, and it either doesn’t ignite, or it ends up looking orange-red. Keep an eye out for the quality and quantity of the blues as you’re enjoying
this year’s fireworks display!!

Of course, computers have greatly enhanced fireworks shows as they can now be synchronized with music. But how does that work?

First, the amount of time it takes each particular type of firework to explode after leaving the ground is recorded into a database. Then the soundtrack for the show is translated into a time code. The designers determine when during the music they want the various fireworks to detonate; using the time code and database, they’re able to figure out exactly when each shell needs to be launched so that it will explode at the right time.

Once the program is built, the fireworks are grouped together, numbered, and connected with Ethernet cables. The computer then relays all the firing commands during the show. (Source: The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society)

Whether you’ll be taking in a city celebration or relaxing with a back yard picnic, have a terrific 4th of July….and enjoy the show!!!

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