Many people are familiar with the glow sticks but few understand the chemistry behind their glow. A glow stick is a short period light source that is used by recreational divers, campers, and military forces. Glow sticks serve several functions creating different special effects. Glow sticking has been one of the most popular uses of glow sticks for entertainment in parties, dance clubs and concerts, celebrations, festivals, and evening performances. However, I have been wondering how the glow sticks produce light and why one has to bend the glow stick for activation.
When one snaps a glow stick for activation, there is a chemical process that kicks off and eventually leads to the generation of the colored light (Lane, 2018). Glow sticks have two compartments that have two varying solutions. Among the chemical solutions is diphenyl oxalate compound containing a dye which differs subject to the color. The second solution is hydrogen peroxide placed in the innermost glass pipe to separate the solutions and avoid their reaction (Kuntzleman, Rohrer and Schultz, 2012). To produce light glow sticks are bent and the inner glass tube is broken producing hydrogen peroxide solution. This solution reacts with the diphenyl oxalate to produce 1, 2-dioxetanedione which decomposes to carbon dioxide.
The energy produced is held by electrons in the dye molecules that subsequently fall back to the ground losing much energy which produces light (Sosabowski, 2010). The glass cylinder separating the two solutions is broken through snapping which allows the solutions to combine and the reaction kicks off resulting to light. The amount of energy and light produced depends on the molecular structure which enables varying amount of light to be achieved. The solution of diphenyl oxalate and hydrogen peroxide and the dye are utilized slowly during the reaction to a point where the glowing ceases.
Kuntzleman, T. S., Rohrer, K., & Schultz, E. (2012). The chemistry of lightsticks: demonstrations to illustrate chemical processes. Journal of Chemical Education, 89(7), 910-916.
Lane, K. S. (2018). How Do Glow Sticks Work? Available at: https://owlcation.com/stem/How-do-Glow-Sticks-Work
Sosabowski, M. (2010). Backyard chemistry: the kinetics of glowsticks. Info Chem, 10(125).