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Rainbow Fire

How to make Rainbow Fire?

I. Atoms
II. Energy levels
a. Electrons
b. Quantum mechanics
c. Photon
III. Astronomers use it
a. To discover the
atomic composition of
b. physicists and
chemists use it too
IV. Flame photometry
a. fireworks
b.metal compounds
How to make Rainbow Fire?

All matter is made of atoms. Atoms have a nucleus,

which consists of protons and neutrons, and is
surrounded by electrons. The nucleus is
concentrated in a very small space, about 10-15 m.
An entire atom is on the order of 10-10 m, so the
electrons are relatively far from the nucleus,
and, strangely enough, atoms are mostly empty
Physicists have found that the electrons traveling
around the atomic nucleus can have only certain
amounts of energy, called energy levels. In other
words, the energy levels of atomic electrons are
quantized. If electrons gain energy, they can move
from one energy level up to a higher level, but
these different energy levels are not continuous—
they come in discrete steps. This fundamental
discovery is known as quantum mechanics. Quantum
mechanics describes how an atom's electrons
interact with electrons of other atoms and with
Atomic electrons at higher energy levels can also
lose energy, dropping down to a lower energy
level. Again, the electron moves from one allowed
energy state to another. The lost energy can be
carried away in the form of heat (vibrational
energy) or in the form of light—when the electron
reverts to a lower energy state, a photon of light
is produced. The photon produced will have an
energy equal to the difference between the
electron's initial high energy state and the later
lower-energy state. For visible light, we perceive
these differences in photon energy as differences
in the color of the light. Because different types
of atoms have different gaps between their energy
levels, they make light of different colors when
their electrons lose energy.
Not only can astronomers use this knowledge to
figure out the atomic composition of distant
stars, but it can also be used to create fireworks
shows. Have you ever watched a fireworks show and
wondered how all the different colors — amazing
reds, yellows, oranges, blues, purples, greens,
and more — are made? The color, or colors, that a
firework makes depends on what chemicals are in
the firework. These chemicals are various metal
compounds that burn when the firework goes off,
and burning the compounds is what makes the
In this science project, I will use a procedure
that is similar to flame photometry or a flame
test to observe the color of light produced when
various metal compounds are burned. I will need
adult supervision with this experiment, and
perform the experiment extremely carefully so that
the flames stay small and under control. What
colors will different chemical compounds produce?
Sources Consulted

Goldman, M.V., et al. (2000). Spectral Lines.

Retrieved October 16, 2012 from

Wikipedia contributors. (2012, October 15).

Spectral Lines. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
Retrieved October 16, 2012 from

Mineralogy Database. (n.d.). Flame Coloration by

Element. Retrieved June 3, 2014, from