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Chemistry of Pyrotechnics: Basic Principles and Theory

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Everyone has observed chemical reactions involving pyrotechnic mixtures. Beautiful 4th of July fireworks, highway distress signals, solid fuel boosters for the Space Shuttle, and the black powder used by muzzle-loading rifle enthusiasts all have a common technical background.

The chemical principles underlying these high-energy materials have been somewhat neglected in the twentieth century by academic and industrial researchers. Most of the recent work has been goaloriented rather than fundamental in nature (e.g. , produce a deeper green flame). Many of the significant results are found in military reports, and chemical fundamentals must be gleaned from many pages of test results.

Much of today's knowledge is carried in the heads of experienced personnel. Many of these workers acquired their initial training during World War II, and they are presently fast approaching (if not already past) retirement age. This is most unfortunate for future researchers. Newcomers have a difficult time acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to begin productive experiments. A background in chemistry is helpful, but much of today's modern chemistry curriculum will never be used by someone working in pyrotechnics and explosives. Further, the critical education in how to safely mix, handle, and store high-energy materials is not covered at all in today's schools and must be acquired in "on-the-job" training.
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