Fireworks! An Es-STEAM-ed Project

The process behind making fireworks is super cool. There’s a lot of moving parts and the planning is science intensive, using a lot of chemistry and engineering. But for all its science, the process is also super artsy! To be a good firework technician, you need an eye for color and patterns.

The two most important things for a good firework are the colors and the BOOM. To make sure both of these things happen, firework technicians use a special vessel called a “shell”. This is basically a hollow paper ball with several different layers in it. A powder “bursting charge” is in the center, which is what allows the firework to explode in a really loud boom once it’s in the air. To get the proper colors, firework technicians also put in “stars”—small spheres of different metals—around the powder charge. When the firework explodes in the air these starts are pushed out in different directions (usually circles of varying size) and catch fire. The different-shaped explosions vary due to how the stars are arranged in the shell. Depending on the type of metal chosen, the firework will be different colors! For example, barium makes green colors and strontium salts make the reds.

But being a good firework technician requires more than just being a good chemist. In order to create cool fireworks, you have to have an eye for patterns, color, and space. One of the most important things is making sure the choreography of the firework is good. This is the perfect job for an artist.

Art teaches you skills like spatial reasoning—how something changes from scale to scale. This is super important for fireworks, as the placement of the stars within the shell determine the shape of the explosion. Someone who practices drawing, for example, will often do a smaller sketch before tackling a full-sized work. By planning it out in a smaller, more manageable space, an artist is able to make adjustments and understand the composition of their piece easily. The same idea holds for firework creation: when arranging things in the shell, an art-minded person would be able to visualize how the stars will look once exploded. By practicing this artistic skill, firework technicians become more efficient and creative in their work.

Similarly, art teaches you all about color and patterns. The firework technician must decide which colors are aesthetically pleasing with each other. Taking it one step further, technicians often combine the colors so that designs are made in the sky when the firework explodes. To do this, they must have an eye for color (it’s not fun when everything is the same old red) but also for design. The arrangement of the stars affects the shape of the explosion as well as what color goes where. This is how you get those really cool fireworks that look like flowers or smiley faces when they explode! A firework technician can’t complete this step without an eye towards art.

 It originally surprised me to find out that art has such a stake in a job as technical as firework creation. But honestly? I shouldn’t be so shocked. Art is everywhere, especially in these STEM-focused careers where you least expect it.

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