Why Fireworks Displays Can’t Include a Perfect Red, White, and Blue – Facts So Romantic

“Mother Nature can be a handful when she wants to be,” says John Conkling, the former technical director of the American Pyrotechnics Association and a professor emeritus of chemistry at Washington College. Except he used a stronger, more colorful word than “handful.” When it comes to fireworks, “she just doesn’t want to give you that perfect red color or that perfect green color. You have to work for it.”

But she especially doesn’t want to give away her secret recipe for blue. To this day, a deep, vibrant blue is still beyond our reach, despite the fact that fireworks were invented more than a millennium ago. It’s the holy grail for pyrotechnic experts.

Above the Manhattan skyline on July 4, 2013, white and red fireworks outshined the blue ones.mandritoiu / Shutterstock.com

During the 7th century, Chinese alchemists mixed potassium nitrate with charcoal and sulfur, therefore stumbling upon the crude recipe for gunpowder. Although the details of how people used the concoction have been lost to history, these three chemicals rammed into bamboo stalks could have created the first sparklers.

The combination works because the potassium nitrate helps break bonds in the organic molecules in charcoal, releasing abundant stored energy (chemically…

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