New Fireworks Exhibit!


Summertime is almost here and what can be more summer-like than the 4th of July, picnics, parades and, most of all, fireworks! Come see our new fireworks display and get in the mood for summer!

Fireworks have a long and, dare I say, colorful history. Fireworks go back as far as 7th century China.  In 1292 Marco Polo took fireworks back to Italy where the Italians began to develop them as an art form. Settlers brought fireworks to the Americas in the 1600s, and the very first 4th of July celebration with fireworks was in 1777 – a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The earliest patents for fireworks go back as far as 1876.

There are a multitude of different fireworks, but they fall into three categories. Aerial fireworks include mortars, bottle rockets and Roman candles.  Proximate fireworks are often used indoors for concerts, theatrical presentations and movies. Ground-based fireworks include the familiar firecrackers, snakes, smoke bombs, and sparklers.

Firework cross section.

The beautiful colors of the fireworks come from various chemical compounds: red is strontium and lithium; blue is copper; silver or white is burning aluminum titanium and magnesium; orange is calcium; yellow is sodium; green is barium; and the neon green and turquoise are chlorine with barium or copper. Different chemicals also affect the appearance of fireworks in different ways. For example, aluminum creates the sparkler effect, glitter comes from antimony, calcium deepens the color, phosphorous creates glow in the dark effects and the smoke effects come from zinc.

Sound is also influenced by the chemicals used and by the shape of the firework tube. Perhaps surprisingly, the whistle effect is second only to flash powders in being the most hazardous firework effect.  Whistle combinations consist of potassium chlorate or potassium perchlorate as the oxidizer, with a salt of benzoic acid or a substituted benzoic acid. You’ll notice you see the fireworks before you hear the booms. That’s because light travels about a million times faster than sound. Those loud booms are actually sonic booms caused by the expansion of gases. You can calculate how far from the fireworks you are by counting the seconds from the time you see the firework until you hear the boom. To figure the distance in miles simply multiply the number of seconds by .o2.  

There are, not surprisingly, many safety regulations surrounding the production and handling of fireworks, but there are also interesting regulations for the storage of fireworks. One of the hazards of storing fireworks is static electricity.  Staff working in explosive buildings should not wear synthetic clothing or non-conducting footwear. Personnel should also discharge themselves before entering the building with an electrostatic discharger. There are also regulations for conduction, anti-static flooring and the humidification of the room.

Before safety regulations were enacted there were many accidents resulting in casualties. When the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle was signed in 1748 celebrations were held all over Europe. The celebration in Paris had a mass explosion which led to the death of 40 people and over 300 injuries.  It was 1875 before the Explosives Act was introduced. The current Federal Explosives Law and Regulations is from 2012. Each state also regulates the use and availability of fireworks.

George Frederick Handel was commissioned to write an overture for the London celebration of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. He wrote Music for the Royal Fireworks, and this began the tradition of association between music and fireworks. For more information about creating fireworks displays and their environmental impact, check out Fireworks displays: explosive entertainment, by Dr. Tom Smith.

Coralville Fireworks 2013
Coralville Fireworks 2013

So, when and why were fireworks banned in Iowa? Fireworks were banned in 1937, following two incidents. In Spencer, Iowa someone lit fireworks in a store where they were being sold. That 1931 fire destroyed most of the downtown. Then, in 1936, a similar fire in Remen, Iowa caused about $600,000 in damages. Iowa’s ban includes all fireworks except sparklers, toy snakes and caps.

Want to try to make your own (safe) fireworks for the 4th of July? Make: has instruction for making your own Soda Bottle Rocket LED Fireworks! Check out Make: v.41 (2014:Oct./Nov.) or the Make website.

So, whatever your plans are for the 4th of July, check out our exhibit and have a safe 4th full of fun and fireworks!



Conkling, John A. Chemistry of pyrotechnics : basic principles and theory. 2nd Edition. 2011. Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press. Engineering Library TP300 .C65 2011.

ENGN TP300 .R87 2009
ENGN TP300 .R87 2009

Soltis, Greg. When was the 4th of July first celebrated. Nov. 28, 2012. LiveScience.

Types of fireworks. FireworksLand. Date Accessed: May 2015

Wolcher, Natalie. How do fireworks make shapesJuly 1, 2011. LiveScience.

Allain, Rhett. The awesome physics in a simple sparkler. July, 4, 2014. Wired.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie. Chemistry of firework colors. Feb. 20, 2015. About Education.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie. Elements in fireworks. Dec. 5, 2014. About Educaton

Pappas, Stephanie. 5 fantastic fireworks facts. July 1, 2012. Live Science

Wolchover, Natalie. How do fireworks make shapes. July 1, 2011. Live Science.

De Antonis, Kathy. Fire. October 2010. ChemMatters.

Agrawal, J. P. (Jai Prakash). 2010. High energy materials : propellants, explosives and pyrotechnics. Weinheim : Wiley-VCH.  Engineering Library TP267.5 .A57 2010 

Smith, Thomas A.K. 2011. Firework displays : explosive entertainment. [Revere, MA] : Chemical Pub. Co. Engineering Library TP300 .F57 2011 

McLeod, Stacey. 10 fun facts you probably didn’t know about fireworks. Cottage Life. Date Accessed: May 2015.

How much does Disney spend annually for fireworks? Date Accessed: May 2015.

Which fireworks are legal and prohibited in Iowa and Illinois July 3, 2014. WQAD8 Quad Cities.

ATF Federal explosives law and regulations2012. U.S. Department of Justice.


More Resources:

Philip, Chris. A bibliography of firework books : works on recreative fireworks from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. 1985. Wincester, Hampshire : Published by C. Philip, in association with St. Paul’s Bibliographies. Main Library Z5885 .P48 1985

Russell, Michael S. The chemistry of fireworks. 2009. Cambridge, UK : RSC Pub. Engineering Library TP300 .R$87 2009.

The sound of fireworks – whistles2015. Learn Chemistry, Royal Society of Chemistry.

Fireworks Glossary. UK Firework Review. Date Accessed: May 2015.

The Unexcelled Fireworks Company. July 2, 2013. Letterology.

“Underwater fireworks” reaction of chlorine and acetylene. December 17, 2012. YouTube.

Chemical of the week: fireworks! Date Accessed May 2015.

The awesome physics in a simple sparkler. July 4, 2014. WIRED.

I Hear the Train a Comin’

Hallidie U.S. Patent 110,971For more than two centuries, trains have traversed the American landscape altering how and where people live and work. This is why, in 2008, Amtrak created National Train Day to be celebrated on the Saturday closet to May 10th, the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah which marked the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The first locomotive was built in 1804 by a Cornish inventor named Richard Trevithick. It was powered by steam. A steam locomotive burns fuel, usually coal. The heat then passes though tubes inside a large water-filled boiler creating steam. The steam then passes through high-pressure tubes to cylinders which engage piston rods connected to the locomotive’s wheels, thus driving the train.1

The steam engine remained popular until the early 1900s when diesel and electric began replacing it. A German mechanical engineer, Rudolf Diesel, invented the diesel-powered locomotive. A diesel engine operates when a cylinder piston squeezes and heats air trapped inside; at the top of the stroke, the system injects oil; the air and oil mixture burns and drives the piston down which turns a crankshaft connected to a generator making eletricity for storage in large batteries. The wheels are powered by motors that draw from the batteries. 2

On January 17, 1871, Andrew Smith Hallidie, an American engineer and inventor, was granted a patent for an “improvement in endless wire ropeways” which became the basis for the first cable car system.3 Soon, however, electricity changed city transportation. In 1897, Boston opened an electric subway system. New York City soon followed in 1904. The all-electric locomotive requires either an overhead pickup or a third-rail carrying a high-voltage of electricity to power the engine. Electric trains are easier and cheaper to maintain and last longer than diesels.4

Now coming down the track are hybrid trains which use a battery to store energy temporarily for when the train is idling or stationary; “bullet trains” which run on steel rails at accelerated speeds; magnetic levitation trains which hover above rails suspended by powerful magnets; and the futuristic Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s vision for transporting people in high speed capsules through a series of tubes.

The world’s fastest passenger train, the Maglev, owned by the Central Japan Railway Company, made history last month by hitting a top speed of 366 mph surpassing its previous record of 361 mph set in 2003.

The Federal Railroad Administration was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The U.S. agency regulates the manufacturing and safety of the train transportation industry. A few of the more widely known train manufacturers are National Railway Equipment Company (NREX) headquarted in Mt. Vernon, IL. This company is known for its N-ViroMotive engine which is used for light duty road switching in yards and urban areas where noise and exhaust emissions are to be reduced. GE Transportation Systems (GETS), a division of General Electric, is headquartered in Chicago while its main manufacturing plant is located in Erie, Pennsylvania. This company is the largest producer of diesel-electric locomotives. Its Dash9 series has an electronic fuel injector and a 4-stroke diesel engine.

GE Dash 9 Series. Source: Wikipedia
GE Dash 9 Series. Source: Wikipedia

Gomaco Trolley Company, located in Ida Grove, Iowa, manufactures trolley cars which look vintage but have state-of-the-art technology. Streetcars or cable cars are used in cities such as Portland, San Diego, San Francisco. Rapid transit commuter trains, known as the metro or subway, are a primary means of transportation in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York. U.S. Manufacture of Rail Vehicles for Intercity Passenger Rail and Urban Transit documents several companies which manufacture parts for high-speed, rapid transportation.







Train: riding the rails that created the modern world by Tom Zoellner.
Train: riding the rails that created the modern world by Tom Zoellner.

Sinclair, Angus. Locomotive Engine Running and Management, 21st edition. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1899, Engineering Library TJ607 .S6 1899

Wolmar, Christian. Blood, Iron & Gold: how the railroads transformed the world. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010. Engineering Library HE1021 .W78 2009

Zoellner, Tom. Train: riding the rails that created the modern world. New York: Viking, 2014. Engineering Library HE1021 .Z64 2014

Federal Railroad Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation

Facebook: National Train Day 2015

Brasor, Philip and Tsubuku, Masako. How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today. The Guardian, September 30, 2014

Vartabedian, Ralph. “Work starting on the bullet train; Construction begins Tuesday in Fresno on the first 29-mile segment of the $68-billion fast train..” Los Angeles Times. (January 5, 2015 Monday ): 1252 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2015/05/07.

Upbin, Bruce. Hyperloop is real: meet the startups selling supersonic travel. Forbes, March 2, 2015

Blood, Iron, & Gold by Chrisitan Wolmar
Blood, Iron, & Gold by Chrisitan Wolmar


1. Langone, John. The New How Things Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2004, p.84. Engineering Library FOLIO T47 .L2923 2004

2. Langone, John. The New How Things Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2004, pp.86-87. Engineering Library FOLIO T47 .L2923 2004

3. Hallidie, A.S. U.S. Patent 110,971. Improvement in Endless Wire Ropeways. Assigned January 17, 1871.

4. Langone, John. The New How Thinks Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Soceity, 2004, pp.88-91. Engineering Library FOLIO T47 .L2923 2004

Finals Week – Extended Hours and Free Coffee!!

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, summer officially begins at 12:38 p.m. EDT on June 21, 2015.  But, even though it isn’t officially summer, the UI Summer Sessions begin the week of May 18. Which mean that FINALS for the spring semester are May 11th through 15th.

In order to help you find that extra study time, we have scheduled extended hours during finals week.

Extended Hours:

Sunday, May 10th: 2 p.m. to midnight

Monday, May 11th through Thursday, May 14: 8:30 a.m. to midnight

Friday, May 15th: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday, May 16th and 17th: CLOSED (congratulations – you made it through the semester!)


Must. Have. Coffee.
Must. Have. Coffee.


We have not only scheduled extended hours during finals week, we will also be providing free coffee and lemonade! Cups are provided – but be “green” and bring your own!