Texas Tech researcher Michelle Pantoya has worked to help make fireworks safer.
As the Fourth of July approaches, adults and children alike are crowding fireworks stands hoping to find the one that will, literally, give them the biggest bang for their buck. And while safety in handling fireworks continues to be a priority for all involved, one Texas Tech University researcher has worked extensively from a technological standpoint to help make fireworks safer and just as spectacular. Michelle Pantoya, the J.W. Wright Regents Chair and professor in the Texas Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering, is an expert in energetic materials and combustion and has performed extensive research toward technological advances in fireworks.
- The combustion lab at Texas Tech studies the combustion of aluminum fuel. This powder has a protective oxide shell, keeping it safe to handle and mix with oxidizers. Otherwise, aluminum is pyrophoric (it will ignite as soon as it is exposed to air). Aluminum burning makes the brightest stars in fireworks.
- Many fireworks include small amounts of powder to desensitize the formulation and stray electrostatic ignition, like the charge build up from your body. Texas Tech has helped advance that technology.
- The formulations for fireworks have advanced so far that the beauty of the fireworks – color, timing, dispersions – can be easily controlled.
- Fireworks that sat on the shelf for a year 10 years ago were duds. Today, Texas Tech has developed ways to stabilize powder and keep it from aging and degrading.
- “Most explosions at plants are triggered by a stray spark. But adding a small amount of highly conductive powder to a formulation acts like a lightning rod, channeling all the electric energy through the powder, thus preventing the pyrotechnic from igniting unintentionally.”
- “We can keep the reds, whites and blues separated and tailored to go off on demand to light up the sky in ways that just couldn't happen 10 years ago.”
- “Old fireworks work as good as new ones due to protective coatings on particles that prevent them from gradually oxidizing in air over time.”