Do you like fire, fireworks, and explosions?

You might be a 'pyro'. I am.

When I was a kid in HS, there were things I would learn about in Chemistry class that I could not do at home. The chemical supply houses would not sell the good stuff to just anybody. You had to have credentials. But today, all you need is eBay.

Here are a bunch of topics and links to things I want to get and try someday.

These are all very dangerous activities which have been described by many others on the internet.

I am in no way responsible for anything that you may attempt yourself.

Many of the movies are big files. I suggest you download them to your hard drive first.
For Windows and Internet Explorer;
RIGHT click the photo/URL, select "Save target As...", and pick your folder.


What is Sodium? It is an element in the alkali metals group (the left-most column) of the periodic table. Sodium is the fourth most abundant element on earth, comprising about 2.6% of the earth's crust; it is the most abundant of the alkali group of metals (think saltwater, with salt, or Sodium Chloride NaCl). It is a highly reactive metal. If sodium comes into contact with water (H2O or HOH, pronounced Hydrogen Hydroxide), it violently tears out the hydroxide to make Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) and leaves the H (hydrogen), which often ignites and explodes from the heat.

Why do I want some Sodium? Please read the above paragraph again.

In chemistry class, I saw a pill-sized chunk of sodium dropped in a bowl of water. It fizzed around the bowl like an alkaseltzer, but throwing off flames. While that was pretty cool already, I found out later, that if you dropped a big chunk into water, it would explode in a shower of molten metal.

Check out this Sodium party where the day was spent dropping Sodium into water and filming it.

A 109.5 gram solid lump of sodium was released into a kids pool, which was docked in the middle of a lake. The idea was that the sodium would explode in the pool, and at most a trivial amount would escape to the surrounding lake, where it would be instantly vaporized. But that's not quite how it worked out.

There was an initial large explosion: Then there were a series of secondary explosions obviously caused by several fairly large chunks literally hopping across the lake. They were thrown high up into the air, came down to hit the water at a high rate of speed, and were then thrown back up into the air by the resulting explosions. This happened at least three, maybe four times. Very alarming: The longest time between impacts, timed on the videotape, was 3.12 seconds. If you do the math, this means the chunk was thrown almost 40 feet high. Fortunately it was going reasonably close to straight up and down, and people were quite far away (about 200 feet). It's easy to imagine a chunk skipping hundreds of feet.

Click the picture to download the 4.9 MB movie.

In this explosion, 59.0 grams of sodium was cut up into sugar-cube-sized chunks to see if it made a difference. This configuration gave the most pleasing explosions. Note the molten sodium that is sprayed all over and flames up on the wet ground.

Click the picture to download the 4.1 MB movie.

Find out more about the Sodium Party

I saw some folks try this out. Very cool stuff. Check out the vidoes.

Click the photo for the 5.1 MB MPEG movie.

Click the photo for the 6.7 MB MPEG movie.


What is Potassium? It is another element in the alkali metals group (the left-most column) of the periodic table. It is another highly reactive metal. It is in fact 20X more reactive than Sodium. The metal is the seventh most abundant and makes up about 1.5 % by weight of the earth's crust. Potassium is an essential constituent for plant growth and it is found in most soils. It is also a vital element in the human diet. Potassium is never found free in nature, but is obtained by electrolysis of the chloride or hydroxide, much in the same manner as prepared by Davy. It is one of the most reactive and electropositive of metals and, apart from lithium, it is the least dense known metal. It is soft and easily cut with a knife. It is silvery in appearance immediately after a fresh surface is exposed. It oxidises very rapidly in air and must be stored under argon or under a suitable mineral oil. As do all the other metals of the alkali group, it decomposes in water with the evolution of hydrogen. It usually catches fire during the reaction with water. Potassium and its salts impart a lilac colour to flames.

The picture above shows the reaction between potassium metal and water.
Click the picture to download the 3.2 MB movie.
Originating web site for movie.


Hydrogen is the lightest element. It is by far the most abundant element in the universe and makes up about about 90% of the universe by weight. Hydrogen as water (H2O) is absolutely essential to life and it is present in all organic compounds. Hydrogen gas was used in lighter-than-air balloons for transport but is far too dangerous because of the fire risk (Hindenberg).

The lifting agent for the ill fated Hindenburg ballooon was hydrogen rather than the safer helium. The image below is the scene probably in a way you have not seen it before. This is a "ray-traced" image of Johannes Ewers, the artist, who won first place with this image in the March/April 1999 Internet Raytracing Competition. For details of ray-tracing you can't beat the POV-Ray site.

hydrogen raytracing

Click the picture to download the 2.0 MB movie.

Originating web site for movie.

Nitrogen Triiodide: Iodine + Ammonia

Iodine is a bluish-black, lustrous solid. It volatilises at ambient temperatures into a pretty blue-violet gas with an irritating odour. It forms compounds with most elements, but is less reactive than the other halogens, which displace it from iodides. Iodine exhibits some metallic-like properties. It dissolves readily in chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, or carbon disulphide to form beautiful purple solutions. It is only slightly soluble in water. Iodine compounds are important in organic chemistry and very useful in medicine and photography. Lack of iodine is the cause of goitre (Derbyshire neck). The deep blue colour with starch solution is characteristic of the free element. It is assimilated by seaweeds from which it may be recovered, and is found in Chilean saltpetre, caliche, old salt brines, and salt wells.
Nitrogen triiodide is a very unstable explosive that's not really practical due to its tremendous instability and cost. When wet it is stable but when dry the touch of a feather can cause it to detonate. Wet nitrogen triiodide should be spread out as much as possible or numerous small piles made. When dry the nitrogen triiodide will not explode from its own weight if spread out, a single large pile will.

Nitrogen triiodide is formed when iodine atoms displace the hydrogen atoms in ammonia NH3 + I = NI3. This reaction occurs when iodine crystals, I2 are soaked in excess ammonium hydroxide.

To begin, select a small beaker or even a disposable cup about 50-mL in capacity.
Add 2 g of iodine crystals to the beaker, crush them as much as possible with a stirring rod.
Add 40 mL ammonium hydroxide to the beaker. After 2 hours the reaction should be complete.
Pour the solution over a filter to collect the crystals, any excess can be rinsed out of the beaker with water.
Put the crystals where you want them immediately because there only semblance of stability is when wet.
Drying will take about 1 hour. You will need a graduated cylinder for measuring liquids.

The picture above shows the result of touching nitrogen triiodide (NI3)! Nitrogen triiodide is percussion sensitive.
Click the picture to download the 1.9 MB movie.
Originating web site for movie.

A controlled lab demo using a feather to cause detonation.
Click the picture to download the 1.4 MB movie.
Originating web site for movie.

Thermite: Aluminum + Iron Oxide

The thermite reaction involves a mixture of iron oxide and aluminum that has been placed in a flower pot and covered with potassium permanganate. Some glycerin is poured over the potassium permanganate and eventually begins to react. When the iron oxide-aluminum mixture is ignited, a very vigorous reaction occurs and a molten metal can be seen dropping from the flower pot into a bucket of sand below. The reaction is extremely exothermic, a great deal of heat is given off. When the product of the reaction is examined a large piece of white hot iron has fallen into the sand at the bottom of the apparatus. This illustrates that aluminum is an extremely strong reducing agent and also that this reaction is very highly exothermic.

The molten metal from the Thermite reaction is very hot. So hot, that Thermite has been used to weld railroad tracks together, and repair huge machinery that was a pain to take appart.

Click the picture to download the 400 KB movie.

Originating web site for movie.

Potassium Permanganate + Glycerine

A few drops of glycerin (which is a polyhydroxy alcohol, if you must know) are placed into a hollow in a pile of potassium permanganate. Potassium permanganate is a strong oxidizing agent and glycerin is an easily oxidized substance. Consequently, a redox type reaction is expected between these two substances. Bring the two of them together and the easily liberated oxygen in the potassium permanganate is rapidly consumed by the glycerin, creating a hugely exothermic reaction that in addition to heat creates some salts, carbon dioxide, and water.

An exothermic (hot) reaction does occur, with the glycerin boiling, giving off smoke and eventually producing a flame that spreads around the pile of potassium permanganate. Eventually all the glycerin is consumed by the permanganate.

For the chemists, here's what happens at the molecular level:
14 KMnO4 + 4 C3H5(OH)3 --> 7 K2CO3 + 7 Mn2O3 + 5 CO2 + 16 H2O + HEAT

The first step in the thermite reaction is often a chemical fuse (oxidation of glycerine by potassium permanganate).

Click the picture to download a 700KB GIF.
Originating web site for GIF.

This one I tried for myself. It is pretty cool. Check it out.

Click any picture to download the 4.1 MB movie.

Chlorine + Brake Fluid

Granular swimming pool chlorine (calcium hypochiorite) and brake fluid (polyethylene glycol) react violently when mixed together, producing a fierce fireball.

Chlorine and brake fluid ignition

Take a cup, styrofoam works well. About 1/2 way up the cup, cut a slit almost all the way through. Pour the brake fluid and then insert a index card into the slit and pour the POWDERED chlorine on top of the card.... Make sure you have a string attached to the index card.

Build your council fire and imbed the cup in the "teepee" of the council fire. Approximately 4min30sec before you want the fire to ignite, pull the string to remove the card thereby dumping the chlorine into the brake fluid...

I tried this. But all I got was a big smokebomb. No fireball. Nothing that would start a fire.

Click the photo for the 6.5 MB MPEG movie.
or click here download the smaller 1.2 MB Windows Media video.

I saw some other folks try this. They did get a fireball.

Click the photo for the 4.5 MB MPEG movie.

By the way, in case you recognize the ingredient in brake fluid (polyethylene glycol), it might be because it is an ingredient in Dr Pepper.


Magnesium is the eighth most abundant element in the earth's crust although not found in it's elemental form. It is a Group 2 element (Group IIA in older labelling schemes). Group 2 elements are called alkaline earth metals. Magnesium tarnishes slightly in air, and finely divided magnesium readily ignites upon heating in air and burns with a dazzling white flame. Normally magnesium is coated with a layer of oxide, MgO, that protects magnesium from air and water. The photo was taken at Burning Man 1996. It is 1/2 a Volkswagen engine case and a fan manifold. Both made of magnesium. Although very hot, an oxide layer all over the surface of the magnesium prevented the metal from really going up. Here, the case is being hit with a steel rod to knock off the oxide layer.

Originating web site.


Estes Video Camera Rocket
This rocket has a solid-state video recorder in it. It will record for 30 seconds flight time.
This one I tried for myself. It is pretty cool. Check it out.

Click here to download the 12.8 MB movie.

Rcandy: Potassium Nitrate + Sugar


Nitrocellulos: Flash Paper/Cotton