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SCI SHOW SPEC SCRIPT Catherine MacLean Episode: Ooo, Ahh: The Colors of Fireworks This time of year

, all over the country, people will gather together on beaches and in parks to crane their necks up to the sky and say ooo and ahh as bright colors erupt in the night sky. These are fireworks, an ancient form of pyrotechnics and quite a sight to behold. But just how do they get those magnificent colors up in the sky? INTRO So light can come in these certain sized packets, called photons. Not unlike 100 calorie snack packs, but way more satisfying. These photons can be emitted when electrons, the negatively charged particles in atoms, move down energy levels. Electrons spend their time at characteristic energy levels, like the rungs on a ladder, or a playground jungle gym (animation). When an electron moves down, it goes from a high enegery state to a lower one and the photon is emitted due to this energy change. The photon has a certain amount of energy—the difference between the two energy states—and therefore (show the equation relating these two) a certain wavelength. Which energy states the electron moves between depends on the characteristics of the atom that contains the electrons. We’re getting to the fireworks, I promise. All atoms have their own particular set of photon energies they release at, and therefore these photons only have certain wavelengths. Photons, which are the particle form of light, fall onto what we call the visible portion of the EMS, the huge spectrum of wavelengths that goes from radio waves to ultraviolet waves. We call it the visible spectrum because humans can see it with their eyes. It contains all of the possible colors that we see. Each color has a specific wavelength, or range of wavelengths associated with it. So, specific atom, specific photon energies, specific wavelengths, specific colors. The group of colors an element can make is called its emission spectra. The beautiful array of colors can be observed by heating a sample of the element. Metal and noble gas elements give off especially bright and distinct emission spectra. Gaseous elements are vacuum sealed in a tube and heated to create neon signs, which in fact do not all contain neon. And, heating of the metal elements in powdered form during an explosion in the sky is what creates the colors of fireworks. VISUAL: fireworks in the listed colors as the elements are listed Iron: yellow Lithium: red Magnesium: white Potassium: pink Copper: blue-green Fireworks technicians use these metals alone or in combination to create the colorful displays in fireworks. So, next time you’re at the fireworks show, impress your friends, and everyone sitting near you with your knowledge by pointing out the elements used in your local fireworks. SOURCES: Chemistry, the Science in Context, 3rd Edition, Gilbert NOTE: I envision this being the beginning of a whole series on fireworks that could be released in the run up to New Years as most countries do fireworks displays then (or it could be saved for 4th of July in the US). This series would cover first the colors by talking about the emission spectra (chemistry/quantum physics) then an episode on the rocket dynamics and how different shapes are made (explosion patterns) (mechanical physics) and then possibly an episode of Sci Show talk show where a fireworks tech comes to discuss his work or an episode on the history and development of fireworks.