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The Amazing Science Behind the Simple Sparkler

Everyone loves to see fireworks. So for the bride or groom looking to add some pizzaz to their wedding, sparklers are a great choice. They are a safe way to add excitement and impress your guests.

Those who choose to add this unique element to their evening or night ceremonies may be curious.

What are sparklers made of and how do they work? Are they safe for my guests to use? Will they burn for long enough to get a good photo?

These are all perfectly normal questions, and you can find out more if you keep reading. Sparklers are a great and inexpensive choice for your wedding, so it’s good to find out more.

If you’ve ever wondered about these fun party accessories, this article will help. Read on to find out the amazing science behind the sparkler.

What Is a Sparkler Is Made Of?

First of all, a sparkler and a firework are two completely different things. Unlike the latter, a sparkler burn will give a controlled “slow burn”. The longest ones can go up to four minutes for an impressive effect.

The basic composition of a sparkler starts with a mix of chemicals. These chemicals are connected to the part that you hold, a thin stick or wire usually. The most common fuel combination is sulfur and charcoal.

Once it’s lit, there’ll be a shower of sparks in a ball shape around the sparkler’s end. The wire or stick should support sparkler burn all the way to the end.

There are some common ingredients in all sparklers. Namely a fuel, oxidizer, metal powder, and a binder.

The binder is the part that combusts and is usually made of starch, sugar, or dextrin. Metal powder and oxidizer are combined in a paste and the binder holds it all together. In some sparklers, the binder is also used as fuel.

Colorants can also be added to make different colored sparklers. The salts of certain metals give off a variety of colors. Certain metallic fuel may be colored light or deep yellow, white, or a bright orange color.

The Chemical Reaction

Sparklers do in fact have one similarity to fireworks: combustion. The powdered metal and the oxidizer (usually potassium nitrate) mix and create a huge amount of energy. This causes a flash of light, as well as some heat and the “popping” sound that you get with sparklers.

Sparklers are a safer, less noisy version of other common combustibles. The reaction in a sparkler happens more slowly. The binder also often acts as a regulator or reducing agent to slow down the reaction.

It starts when you light the top, releasing oxygen. The next step will be the oxidization of the super tiny powdered metal pieces in the sparkler. That causes more heat which in turn ignites the next piece of the sparkler till it reaches the end.

The sparkles themselves are larger pieces of metal. They produce the actual sparkles once they are ignited. They look similar to a shooting star when they are ejected into the air and start to burn.

These pieces are important to call the device a sparkler. Without the large pieces then the sparkler would just burn down to the end without much fanfare. Kind of like lighting a match.

The metals used range from aluminum to steel and even magnesium dust.

The key thing that makes a sparkler safe is that the metals are proportioned in just the right amount. This leads to a controlled burn.

Temperature vs Thermal Energy

Can you guess how hot a sparkler is? Let’s compare it to some other temperatures. The human body is around 98 degrees, an oven can get up to 1500 degrees.

Iron, on the other hand, melts at around 2,800 degrees. This is in the range of how hot a sparkler gets. The sparks can reach from 1,800 to 3,000 degrees!

You might think this makes them scary. However, a spark that touches your skin won’t seriously damage you.

This is because its heat is coming from its thermal energy. Scientifically, temperature and energy are two different things. The sparklers have extremely low mass and their thermal energy is low as a result.

An easy way to think about this is to consider the case of a pizza wrapped in foil in the oven. Once it’s hot enough, you slide it out by holding the foil. Will the foil burn you?

Likely not, since although it’s about 300 degrees, it’s low mass and very thin. It’s not going to hold enough energy to burn your fingers.

Size and Volume

The sparks in your sparkler are doubly safe because of their size. Since they are so small, they don’t stay hot for long. If you think about it, you probably already know that small things cool off more quickly.

It’s the case whether you’re talking about a sparkler or a tray of muffins. For example, say you’ve got two trays, one full of bigger muffins and the other full of smaller ones. You already know that the smaller ones will cool off more quickly and be ready to eat that much faster.

The science that determines all this is all about volume. Think about a small cube of metal. If you want to double the size of that cube, you’ll have to double each of the eight sides of the cube.

You’ve effectively made the volume EIGHT times what it was. This means eight times the thermal energy. If that new piece of metal is heated, it’s going to be much warmer than the original smaller piece.

Be Sparkler Safe

A sparkler is not dangerous, but they still produce a tiny bit of heat. This is not usually enough to burn anyone. Still, remember to take precautions, but still, have fun!

Sparklers are a great way to add some magic to your ceremony and get your guests involved in a way they’ll enjoy. Have a look at our guide and see how this little item can take your big day from blah to wow.