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Sources of Visible Light

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Glow Stick Science

Glow Stick Science

Credit: The U.S. Army
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flickr_-_The_U.S._Army_-_Preparing_for_night_Urban_Warfighting_Orienteering_Course.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Is this soldier using some type of high-tech laser light? Believe it or not, he’s using the same type of light that you do if you play with glow sticks. In fact, this type of light was first developed by the military.

The Back Story

  • There are many different sources of visible light. Glow sticks produce a type of light called chemoluminescence.
  • Credit: Lucky Lynda
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/olsenart/5797253951/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Glow sticks can produce a wide spectrum of visible light [Figure2]


  • Chemicals undergo chemical reactions and release energy in the form of light. You know that a chemical change has occurred, because the release of light is a sign of a chemical reaction.
  • Watch this entertaining video to see for yourself how glow sticks—well, glow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZfHn1YJVGk

Show What You Know

With the links below, learn more about glow sticks and chemoluminescence. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why do you have to bend and “crack” a glow stick in order for it to produce light?
  2. What chemical reaction takes place in a glow stick?
  3. What causes the glow in a glow stick?
  4. Besides using glow sticks for fun, what are some other real-world applications of glow sticks?
  5. How is chemoluminescence used in forensics?


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