Teachers Powered by teachers'domain

Pyrotechnically Speaking

  • Teacher Resource
  • Posted 01.29.04
  • NOVA

In this interview from the NOVA Web site, chemistry professor Dr. John Conkling details advancements made in color mixing, explains the limitations of aerial shell bursts, and suggests, among other things, that properly timing the bursts of fireworks is the key to thrilling an audience.

NOVA Pyrotechnically Speaking
  • Media Type: Document
  • Size: 248.0 KB
  • Level: Grades 6-12

  • Log in to Teachers' Domain to download, share, rate, save, and match to state standards.

Source: NOVA: "Fireworks!"


Dr. John Conkling is a university chemistry professor and a past executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association. In this wide-ranging interview, Conkling reflects on how the field of pyrotechnics has changed over time and reveals that innovations often come from amateurs who, like him, simply love to experiment with fireworks.

With booming noises and captivating visual displays, today's pyrotechnic productions offer something to appeal to almost everyone's taste. Thanks to advances in color mixing and other changes in their chemical makeup, fireworks have become brighter, more colorful, and more vivid over the past thirty years. In addition, computers are now programmed to control launch sequences, enabling displays -- although generally shorter than in the past -- to be jam-packed with rapid-fire shell bursts and timed to match musical selections. What's in store for the future of pyrotechnics? Conkling suggests that the next advances in pattern shell design may be complex shapes and fully formed words that light up the sky.

Questions for Discussion

  • How have fireworks changed over the past three decades?
  • What are the recent areas of innovation in the field of fireworks? What innovation would you like to see?
  • What safety concerns must be taken into consideration when using fireworks?
  • How are daytime firework displays possible? How are they different from nighttime displays?

Resource Produced by:

					WGBH Educational Foundation

Collection Developed by:

						WGBH Educational Foundation

Collection Credits

Collection Funded by:

						National Science Foundation

Related Resources

  • Anatomy of a Firework

    There's more to a fireworks display than meets the eye. This interactive activity from the NOVA Web site loo...

  • Fireworks! Lifting Charge

    In this video segment adapted from NOVA, learn how pyrotechnicians use common compounds to blast fireworks i...

  • Fireworks! Making Color

    What gives a fireworks display its brilliant blue, green, and red colors? Learn how pyrotechnicians give fireworks co...