By Carina Vermooten
“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. We see no reason why gunpowder treason should be forgot.”
Since it is a national British holiday that everyone celebrates (or just use as an excuse to ooh and aah at beautiful fireworks), here is a short history behind the holiday and an explanation on how fireworks work.
On the fourth of November 1605, Guy Fawkes, who was a member of a group of provincial English Catholics, was caught in the basement of the British Parliament, trying to blow it up with gunpowder. Although the main goal of his group’s grand plan was to blow up Parliament, they also wanted to kill King James I simply because before he came into power, he promised to stop executing innocent Catholics like his predecessor Queen Elizabeth. Ever since then the British celebrated his failure on the fifth of November.
The Chinese invented fireworks as part of a ritual to ensure that evil spirits are kept away. As you watch a breath-taking fireworks display, three things are happening that you are not necessarily aware of: the fireworks have actually been designed so that they won’t explode, you’re witnessing how nature conserves energy, and while the fireworks are at their brightest, they are actually starting to cool down.
Fireworks are made out of two basic ingredients: black powder, which is a fuel source, and an oxidiser. The fuel source provides heat and the oxidiser speeds up the reaction. The slower the reaction between the two, the more beautiful the display.
The blend of ingredients has to be just right. The chemists use small, medium and large microns. To slow down burning, chemists use chemicals (microns) that are bigger in size and don’t mix them very well with the smaller microns because it makes the fireworks last longer and makes them brighter. What gives the colours to a fireworks display are the different metals used in the mix. Strontium creates red sparks, copper makes blue sparks, barium makes green sparks and sodium makes yellow sparks. You can also mix the chemicals and different colours will be given. Shapes in fireworks are made depending on how the creator arranged the chemical pellets in the containers.
Please be safe and careful tonight if you are planning on lighting some firecrackers and be considerate of neighbours and pets.
Happy Guy Fawkes Day!