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.
Michelle Pantoya, professor and J.W. Wright Regents Chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering,
(806) 834-3733 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- 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
- “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.”
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