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How to work with Alkali Metals

When you are learning about alkali metals in your science lessons – it is unlikely that fireworks will crop up too much! Do you know how fireworks came about , and how they link to alkali metals?

Like many things, fireworks were an accidental invention. Apparently around 200 B.C, after a fuel shortage, Chinese villagers threw some bamboo into fire. They did not realise that because bamboo grows so quickly it will trap air in its stalks. Once heated, this trapped air compressed, then expanded and burst with a loud bang. The birth of fireworks !! They soon reasoned that this could be of use in frightening spirits and monsters away.

It took another thousand years before fireworks, as we would recognise, came into existence. It is believed that around 800 A.D, an alchemist combined sulphur, potassium nitrate and charcoal  in the search of the secret to eternal life. Unsurprisingly, he did not discover immortality – but he did invent gunpowder.  This packed into paper of bamboo tubes created the first fireworks. Still – these would only be noisy not colourful affairs!

In 1295, Marco Polo brought fireworks to Europe from Asia. Celebrations in medieval England included fireworks , jesters would often use them to entertain crowds. It was in Italy, many years later that metals and other ingredients were added to create fireworks with colour – such as sodium to make them yellow!


GCSE Science students – you need to be able to describe and explain the properties of alkali metals. Our new guide, “How to work with Alkali Metals” can help. Included, as always are questions to try, and answers to check your understanding.

To see the guide, click on the picture below.

Alkali Metals


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