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Glow Sticks

What makes a glow stick glow?


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December 27, 2010 2:03AM

A glow stick glows as the result of the chemical reaction between two liquids - the 'oxilate' typically trichloro-6-carbonpentoxyphenyl and phenylethynyl.

The chemical reaction for this kind of heatless light happens when you mix multiple chemical compounds. When you combine two or more compounds, the atoms may rearrange themselves to form new compounds. Depending on the nature of these compounds, this chemical reaction will cause either a release of energy or absorption of energy.

We know that we can activate a glow stick by bending and then shaking it. When you bend it, a very fragile glass vial inside of it breaks and releases the chemical inside (hydrogen peroxide) to mix with the other substance (phenyl oxlate ester).

When the two compounds are allowed to mix, they go through a chemical reaction (oxidation), which makes a different, unstable chemical, called peroxyacid ester. This new unstable substance decomposes into a different compound, (phenol and a cyclic peroxy compound) and then to carbon dioxide. The energy caused by the decomposition makes the particles in the fluorescent dye move faster and this creates light. The color of the fluorescent dye determines what color the light will be. The process by which this happens is called chemiluminescence.