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Chemistry: Demo: Flame Colors


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About this Lesson

  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 2:47
  • Media: Video/mp4
  • Use: Watch Online & Download
  • Access Period: Unrestricted
  • Download: MP4 (iPod compatible)
  • Size: 30 MB
  • Posted: 07/14/2009

This lesson is part of the following series:

Chemistry: Full Course (303 lessons, $198.00)
Chemistry: Atoms, Molecules, and Ions (10 lessons, $16.83)
Chemistry: Atomic Structure (3 lessons, $4.95)

This lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Chemistry, taught by Professor Harman, Professor Yee, and Professor Sammakia. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at The full course covers atoms, molecules and ions, stoichiometry, reactions in aqueous solutions, gases, thermochemistry, Modern Atomic Theory, electron configurations, periodicity, chemical bonding, molecular geometry, bonding theory, oxidation-reduction reactions, condensed phases, solution properties, kinetics, acids and bases, organic reactions, thermodynamics, nuclear chemistry, metals, nonmetals, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and more.

Dean Harman is a professor of chemistry at the University of Virginia, where he has been honored with several teaching awards. He heads Harman Research Group, which specializes in the novel organic transformations made possible by electron-rich metal centers such as Os(II), RE(I), AND W(0). He holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Gordon Yee is an associate professor of chemistry at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University and completed postdoctoral work at DuPont. A widely published author, Professor Yee studies molecule-based magnetism.

Tarek Sammakia is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he teaches organic chemistry to undergraduate and graduate students. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University and carried out postdoctoral research at Harvard University. He has received several national awards for his work in synthetic and mechanistic organic chemistry.

About this Author

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Have you ever wondered where all the pretty colors in fireworks come from? Basically, the idea is this: you need an exothermic reaction, like, for instance, gunpowder exploding. Gunpowder is potassium nitrate, sulfur and carbon. And that reaction fuels another reaction. It is the electronic excitation of metal salts. And we know that the energy levels in atoms and ions are quantis, and that quantization gives rise to light being emitted at specific frequencies or specific wavelengths when the atoms relax from their excited state to their ground state. So again, it's the excitation energy from some exothermic reaction, like gunpowder blowing off, exciting metal atoms, then those metal atoms relax and the energy changes are specific to the metal atom, and so you get only particular colors coming out. And those colors are characteristic of the atom and they give rise to the pretty colors in fireworks.
Well, we're not going to use gunpowder here, what we're going to do is we're going to use the hydrogen balloon explosion. And what I have prepared here are two balloons, one that contains potassium carbonate and the other contains copper chloride. It doesn't much matter what the source of the metal salts is, but the other key ingredient in the balloon is hydrogen. And what I'm going to do is I'm going to touch off these hydrogen balloons. The hydrogen will explode, it will react with oxygen and it will explode. It will excite the potassium or the copper, and then they'll relax and we'll see the colors that come out.
Okay, lights, please. Here's potassium in the front. That was pretty good. That was a violet color, you may have noticed, characteristic of potassium. And now, here's copper. Lights, please. And you notice that the copper was green. So potassium salts are used to get sort of a violet color and copper is used to get green. It turns out that lithium can be used to make red. Sodium is very common, so you'll see it as a yellow color. Sodium, for instance, is in the sodium lights on the streets. You see sometimes a yellowish-amber light. That's sodium.
So again, you get different colors, depending on different metal salts, and that's the source of the pretty colors in fireworks.
Atoms, Molecules, and Ions
Atomic Structure
CIA Demonstration: Flame Colors Page [1 of 1]

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