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On Fire
by Rick Groleau

Whether it's in the form of an exploding firework or a burning cigarette, 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.

Flash is a plug-in that allows for increased interactivity. If you can see the animated boxes at left, the plugin is already installed. If you do not see the boxes, you can install the Flash plugin, or select this feature's non-Flash version.

Rick Groleau is managing editor of NOVA Online.

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