The Chemistry of…

(No.1 in a series of n)


I knew the basics about how glowsticks work, but I wasn’t aware of the actual chemicals involved. But the boy came home with Science homework yesterday evening which was to research the exact mechanism. We never got to play with glowsticks in our Science classes. Although I did use them extensively in farmers’ barns across Northumberland and several (or more) warehouses in Gateshead a couple of years later.

But I digress (often).

My insatiable lust for pointless knowledge led me to peek over his shoulder as he found this rather cool page on this rather cool site.

And basically, it’s a fairly simple chemical reaction:

diphenyl oxalate + hydrogen peroxide = phenol (yikes!) + 1,2-dioxetanedione.

The unstable 1,2-dioxetanedione then breaks down in the presence of the dye, which is activated by the energy released as two carbon dioxide molecules are produced. Still slightly concerned about that phenol though.

Those dye molecules look like something out of the Power Rangers.

Of course, you don’t need to know this to enjoy waving your glowstick around, but a little trivia never hurt anyone. Well, unless it pushes something important out of your brain, like how to breathe or something like that.

Or just how dangerous phenol can be.