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On Fire
by Rick Groleau

Whether it's in the form of burning tobacco or a raging forest fire, combustion is merely some material rapidly combining with oxygen. Well, maybe that's stating it too simply. Combustion turns out to be a complex interaction between molecules—even the burning of a simple five-atom molecule can involve more than 100 individual chemical reactions. And if you take a look at the burning of organic matter such as tobacco and wood, which contain long molecules of intricately arranged atoms, the interactions are substantially more involved.

This feature lets you explore the basics of combustion, including how a fire ignites, how a molecule's atoms rearrange themselves during combustion, and what a flame is made of.

Rick Groleau is managing editor of NOVA Online.

This feature originally appeared on NOVA's "Search for a Safe Cigarette" Web site, www.pbs.org/nova/cigarette/.




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