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  • Everybody loves fireworks -- the lights, the colors, and, of course, the big boom.

  • But the history of fireworks isn't all hugs and celebrations.

  • Long before epic fireworks displays, chemists in China invented the key ingredient that propels those bright lights into the sky. That invention was what we now call gunpowder.

  • Our story begins back in ancient China in the mid-ninth century where early Chinese alchemists were trying to create a potion for immortality.

  • Instead, what they created was a flammable powder that burned down many of their homes.

  • They quickly realized that this black powder, which they called fire medicine, was precisely the opposite of something that would make you live forever.

  • In these early days, the Chinese hadn't yet figured out how to make the powder explode; it was simply very flammable, and their armies used it to make flaming arrows and even a flamethrower.

  • But once they figured out the right proportions of ingredients to create a blast, they began using the powder even more,

  • creating fireworks to keep evil spirits away and bombs to defend themselves against Mongol invaders.

  • It was these Mongols, most likely, who spread the invention of gunpowder across the world.

  • After fielding Chinese attacks, they learned how to produce the powder themselves and brought it with them on their conquests in Persia and India.

  • William of Rubruck, a European ambassador to the Mongols, was likely responsible for bringing gunpowder back to Europe around 1254.

  • From there, engineers and military inventors created all kinds of destructive weapons.

  • From bombs to guns to cannons, gunpowder left its mark on the world in some pretty terrible ways, in contrast to the beautiful marks it can leave in the air.

  • So, how does black powder propel fireworks into the sky?

  • You might have seen old Westerns or cartoons where a trail of gunpowder is lit and it leads to a large and obviously explosive barrel. Once the fire gets to the barrel, a large boom occurs.

  • But why doesn't the trail itself explode?

  • The reason is that burning the powder releases energy and gases. While the trail is burning, these are easily released into the surrounding air.

  • But when the gunpowder is contained within the barrel, the energy and gases cannot easily escape and build up

  • until BOOM!

  • Firework canisters provide a single, upward-facing outlet to channel this explosive energy.

  • The wick ignites the gunpowder and the energy takes the easiest exit from the canister, launching the firework high into the sky.

  • The flame then makes its way through the firework's encasing and the same reaction occurs high above our heads.

  • So, while the Chinese alchemists never found the compound for eternal life, they did find something that would go on to shape all of civilization,

  • something that has caused many tragic moments in human history, and yet still gives us hope when we look up in celebration at the colorful night sky.

Everybody loves fireworks -- the lights, the colors, and, of course, the big boom.

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B2 TED-Ed gunpowder powder firework barrel chinese

【TED-Ed】The deadly irony of gunpowder - Eric Rosado

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    VoiceTube posted on 2020/12/22
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