Glow Stick Magic

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In 1962, intrigued by the light flashes of the glowworm, and the need for a safe light source to be used in combat situations both Edwin Chandross, a Bell Lab chemist, and the U.S. Military at the China Lake Navel Weapons Center in California under Herbert Richter, a Naval scientist, began experiments to develop a chemiluminescent lamp.  This lamp produces illumination from a chemical reaction. The work of many other scientists including Michael Rauhut and some of his fellow co-workers at American Cyanamid in Stanford, Conn.  was required before today’s glow sticks were fully developed.

Various patents were granted by the US Government along the way including many of which went to the US Navy scientists.  The earliest patent in 1965 was given to Bernard Dubrow and Eugene Daniel Gath for inventing a packaged chemiluminescent material.  Finally, Richard Taylor Van Zandt was granted a patent for a Chemical Light Device in 1977.

Glow sticks are chemiluminescent lamps which means that they derive their light from the reaction of mixing different chemicals together. They are produced as see-thru plastic tubes in which chemicals are contained in isolation.  When the chemical compounds are agitated, they glow in various colors depending upon the chemicals that have been mixed together.  The components are usually combined by bending and, thereby, breaking a glass capsule of hydrogen peroxide that is contained within the other chemicals held in the plastic tubing.  After the capsule is broken, the tube is shaken to mix the different chemicals.

To discover which chemicals would produce the desired illumination, hydrogen peroxide was the first one tried by Edwin Chandros.  This compound releases a great amount of energy in a short period of time without burning, therefore producing a cool light.  Various different chemical combinations were experimented with in the development of glow sticks.  Hydrogen peroxide and peroxide remain the reactants of choice by the manufacturers to be mixed with a catalyst such as phenyl oxalate along with a florescent dye solution for color.

Although the chemicals stored in the glow stick are in themselves non-toxic, care must be taken in handling these devices because when the solutions interact the substance phenol is produced.  Phenol is both corrosive and toxic.  If a glow stick is ruptured, any bodily area which comes into contact with the internal chemicals should be well cleansed as irritation, allergic reaction, and vomiting may occur.

With the exceptions of the problem with the production of phenol in the chemical reactions, their only single time use, and the fact that they cannot be extinguished, the popular glow sticks have many positive attributes.  For the military they produce light to see, but no heat, so that they are safe in situations where explosives are employed.  They are also lightweight for easy transportation, can be operated in extreme climate conditions, are durable and require no batteries.  The lamps are not pressure sensitive so that they can provide light underwater and in the air.

Outdoor enthusiasts such as campers find glow flares an excellent and safe light source.  Night skiers stand out with glow devices decorating their ski suits.  Spelunkers, or cave explorers, face the danger of gasses accumulating in caves.  These lamps are perfect for illumination within caves because they will not ignite the gasses.  Bicycle riders are more noticeable at night with glow lights embellishing their vehicles.

These disposable, inexpensive lamps provide light anywhere, anytime.  Without heat, flame or sparks, they are permitted in large sport stadiums and concert venues.  Halloween becomes safer for children with Jack-o’-lanterns lit by glow lights instead of candles and costumes decorated with glowing materials.

Best of all, this is the one lamp that can safely go into any area devastated by man-made or natural disasters immediately after the event to help rescuers search for survivors.

Glow sticks are a wonderful way to do safe outdoor decoration lighting.  Give these pictures a look and see if they inspire you.  Have a great Halloween!

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