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(Gr. 9-12)
To explore atomic emission and absorption.


  • NOVA's "Kaboom" program
  • goggles for each student
  • bottles of aqueous solutions containing ions of copper, iron, barium, lithium, sodium, and strontium
  • Bunsen burner
  • wire loops (inoculation loops work well, or use bent hangers)


  1. Have students make a table with a column for each metal ion being tested (including one unknown) and another for the different colors emitted by each metal.

  2. Ask students to put on their goggles.

  3. Using concentrated solutions, set up at each lab table. Turn out the lights, and let the students move around the room discovering the colors that are emitted by metal atoms when they absorb and release energy.

  4. Have students dip the wire into the solution and then put it into the bunsen burner flame to see the light emitted.

  5. Finally, have students test an unknown metal ion solution. In the end, the students have to determine which metal ion is present in the unknown solution by comparing it to the metal ions they have already tested.

  6. Questions to ask students include:

    • What uses the phenomenon has (my students always say fireworks)?
    • How is it that astronomers know what elements make up the sun?
    • How does each metal atom display a unique color?

Students turn in their observations as well as their guess as to which metal is present in the unknown solution. They also turn in their responses to questions posed in the activity.

Classroom Tips
Explain to students that the wire is also made of metal and that, if they leave it in the flame too long, they will see the emissions from the loop metal, which is usually iron.

Sent in by
Kari Kelly
John F. Kennedy Sr. High School
Granada Hills, CA

(Gr. 9-12)
1. Using NOVA's "Kaboom!" program transcript, select 10-20 events from the program. These events should be such that the students should recall them without too much difficulty. Type out a brief (sentence or two, etc.) description of each event. Make a class set or enough so that students can work as small groups.

2. Make a very brief outline of the events on the board, overhead, etc. Discuss it with the students.

3. Show the program. In some cases consider watching the program in two half hour segments. Have a class discussion about the program.

4. Cut each set of event descriptions into "strips" and place in an envelope. The students task is then to arrange the events in the correct order as they occured in the program, on a separate piece of paper, using a gluestick.

5. You could also include a few short essay questions to complete the activity. Consider a poster activity also, to include pictures or diagrams.

Sent in by
Joe Calandra
Booker High School
Sarasota, FL

(Gr. 9-12)
We use NOVA's "Kaboom!" program in our unit on ionic bonds. We incorporate a lab activity found in our textbook, Chemistry: Visualizing Matter, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1996.

The lab is a fractional crystalization of an aqueous solution of potassium nitrate and sodium chloride.

Sent in by
David Pollock
Hays High School

(Gr. 10-12)
My idea is to relate the "Kaboom" program to the chemistry of fireworks or pyrotechnics.

Teacher's Safety Precaution: This is only a class research project to reinforce students' knowledge of the elements and the periodic table; it is not an application project. It would be extremely hazardous for students to attempt to build a firework on their own.

Chemicals of Fireworks & Pyrotechnics

The Mission
To learn more about the use and purpose of certain elements in fireworks or pyrotechnics displays.

Materials Needed

  • Access to the Internet

  • student worksheet

  • 3.5 inch computer disk for students to type their answers to the worksheet questions save so the teacher can check the student's work using the disk. The disk also could be used to print out the students answers later to be corrected.

alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, halogens, transition metal, metalloids, element, metal, non-metals, family or group, period, noble gas, flame test

Getting Ready
Ask students if they have you ever gone to a Fourth of July celebration, concert, or sporting event where a great display of fireworks were presented? As they watched, did the thought of what kinds of materials or elements make up the brilliant display crossed their minds? The colors, sparkles and smoke are produced from many different elements and compounds.

Students should be introduced to the periodic table of elements with a classroom discussion.The discussion should cover historical development and organization of the periodic table, locations and names of element groups or families, location of metals, non-metals and metalloids and some properties of elements in specific groups or families. You may want to have your students complete a flame test laboratory assignment.

Students should know how to log onto the Internet at your school or computer lab.They must also be able to use and work with Internet search engines. A discussion on the different types available and information obtainable from certain search engines on the Internet will be very helpful to the students.

Student Worksheet
A. On the Internet, find

B. Use the search engine to look up fireworks or pyrotechnics. Search the science area.

C. From the search results, choose the site that discusses the uses of elements infireworks from the periodic table.

D. From the periodic table on the selected Web site, identify one element (if any is present)for each of the categories below. On a separate piece of paper, write the name of the elementyou selected for each category. Next to the selected name, describe the use of that elementin fireworks.

  1. [IA] Alkali metals
  2. [IIA] Alkaline earth metals
  3. [IIIA] Boron family
  4. [VA] Nitrogen family
  5. [VIA] Chalcogen family
  6. [VIIA] Halogen family
  7. [I-VIIIB] Transition metals
  8. Metalloid

E. From the selected Web site, choose elements that you would hypothetically use in making your own firework. Write down which elements you would use, and explain why you chose each one.

F. Check out the section from the selected Web site with the anatomy diagram of a firework.Draw this diagram and label the important parts.

G. Search the Internet for an element not found on this site's periodic table that may be used to produce a color in fireworks. Write down the name of this element and the color it would produce in a firework. Copy down the site address where you located this information. Hint: (Remember the flame test lab).

Stay On Track (Assessment Component)

Scoring Rubric
Did you correctly identify an element into the proper family or group? +1 point for each

Did you explain correctly the element's use in fireworks? +2 points for each

Did you correctly draw the diagram of a firework bomb? +4 points

Did you correctly label each important part of the bomb firework? +1 point for each

Did you fully complete the instructions of activity part G? +3 points

Dig Deeper!
What did you like about this assignment? What would you change if your were the teacher?


  1. Online:

  2. Online:

  3. Offline: Student Chemistry Book (Merrill:1998)

  4. Offline: Flame test lab, Laboratory Chemistry book and teacher modifications (Merrill: 1983)

  5. Offline: [VHS video]—The Power of the Periodic Table; Teacher's Video Company or The Periodic Table; Coronet Video Company.

Thanks to people that set-up and maintain the MarcoPolo Web site.

Sent in by
Joseph B. Wright
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
New Mexico Military Institute

Teacher's Guide

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