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How to work with Alkali Metals

With New Year fast approaching, and Bonfire Night just behind us, it is the time of year for plenty of firework displays. But have you ever wondered how this links to your lessons about alkali metals? And how much do you actually know about fireworks?

Most historians believe that fireworks were invented in China, though some argue it was in the Middle East or India. There is evidence that Chinese firecrackers were invented as long ago as 200 B.C. At around 800 A.D. Chinese alchemists mixed together salt peter (which contains potassium nitrate), sulphur and charcoal and made gunpowder. Once they made it they thought that these explosions would keep evil spirits away. To create some of the first fireworks, they would pack the gunpowder into bamboo shoots and throw the shoots into a fire.

An exploding firework is a number of chemical reactions happening simultaneously or in rapid sequence. Chemicals inside the firework combust when heat provides enough activation energy. Metal compounds known as metal salts give fireworks their colour. Different metal compounds give different colours. You can use alkali metals for this; sodium salts gives yellow and orange colours, lithium salts provides red colours.

The first documented use of fireworks in England  was in 1486, at the wedding of King Henry VII. However, it was not until Queen Elizabeth I ruled that they really became popular. Both the Queen herself, and Shakespeare, loved fireworks. The Queen appointed a special Fire Master who was in charge of all royal displays, and Shakespeare referenced fireworks in many of his plays.

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


Come back and check our blog page for more resources to help you improve your understanding of different topics in various subjects.  New Maths and Science guides will be coming soon.

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