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Sitting by a fire on a fall night one would not think of a campfire as cold light. Could there be such a thing? “Cold light” is what the word luminescence means (Fluorescent Mineral Society, 1 of 2). Cold light can be seen at many different temperatures. Not only does cold light exist, but there are several types of luminescence including bioluminescence or “living light”, photoluminescence or fluorescence, “day-glow”, and phosphorescence which is delayed luminescence or “afterglow” (Fluorescent Mineral Society, 1 of 2). Chemiluminescence is when two or more chemicals mix and react to create light energy.
An example of bioluminescence is a firefly. The production of light in bioluminescent animals is caused by converting chemical energy to light energy (Bioluminescence, 1 of 1). In a firefly, oxygen, luciferin, luciferase (an enzyme), and ATP combine in the light organ in a chemical reaction that creates cold light (Johnson, 42). This bright, blinking light helps the male firefly attract female fireflies as a possible mate. Other examples of bioluminescent organisms are fungi, earthworms, jellyfish, fish, and other sea creatures (Berthold Technologies, 1 of 2).
Light sticks work in a similar way. When you “snap” a light stick, the chemical in the glass capsule mixes with a chemical in the plastic tube and creates light energy. Instead of the chemicals used by a firefly, other chemicals are used to create a glow. The light stick that you can buy at a store usually contains hydrogen peroxide, phenyl oxalate ester, and fluorescent dye (New York Times Company, 1 of 3). The light stick will glow the same color as the fluorescent dye placed in it. In luminescence, the chemical reaction “kicks an electron of an atom out of its ‘ground’ (lowest-energy) state into an ‘excited’ (higher-energy) state, then the electron give back the energy in the form of light so it can fall back to it’s ‘ground’ state (Fluorescent Mineral Society, 1 of 2).
Controlling chemiluminescent light was how Omniglow Incorporated became the first company to produce light sticks. In 1986, when the first light stick was invented, scientists thought they could make a lot of money selling light sticks. However, since they had to make light sticks by hand, it was harder for them to produce very many of them. Until machines were invented to make light sticks, it cost too much money to make them by hand.
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Because light sticks are portable, lightweight, weatherproof, and not battery-dependent they are perfect for emergencies, and are kept in cars, houses, tornado bunkers, and other places. Chemiluminescent jewelry is sold at fairs, stores, and various outdoor nighttime gatherings. Because they are safe and inexpensive they make entertaining toys for children.
Fireflies and light sticks both emit light efficiently, but there is a difference in duration and control. The light stick has a definite beginning and end to its life. The average light stick lasts from eight to twelve hours. However, once the capsule containing the chemicals inside is split, the chemiluminescent reaction begins and cannot be stopped and restarted. The firefly, on the other hand, is not limited like a light stick and can start and stop its light at will.
While the light stick does not give off any heat during the chemical reaction, the rate of the reaction can be effected by the surrounding temperature (New York Times Company, 1 of 3). When the surrounding temperature is hot, the chemical reaction inside the light stick increases causing the light to be brighter. When the surrounding temperature is cold, the chemical reaction inside the light stick decreases causing the light to be dimmer. A Swedish chemist by the name of Svante Arrhenius established a law called The Arrhenius Rate Law. This law says that the rate of a chemical reaction increases exponentially with the absolute temperature (PSIgate, 1 of 2). This explains why food spoils faster in warmer temperatures. This also explains why car batteries, which generate power by chemical reaction, do not work as well in cold weather.
As the temperature rises in a chemical reaction, “the motion of the atoms and molecules increases too, and they collide with each other more frequently and with more force, hence increasing the rate of reaction” (MadSci Network, 1 of 3). When the temperature decreases, the atoms and molecules do not move around as fast and the rate of reaction decreases. Therefore, when heat is applied to a light stick, the chemical reaction will speed up and the light should not last as long. And, when cold is applied to a light stick, the chemical reaction will slow down and the light should last longer. Therefore, a chemiluminescence reaction should be temperature sensitive.