Friday, July 8, 2011

The Green 4th of July


The 4th of July is my favorite holiday. It stands for independence and the rights of we the people and takes us back to a time long before the military industrial complex ruled the nation. This 4th of July was greener than many previous years as many municipalities are flat broke and could not have fireworks displays. Firing off fireworks is a thermodynamic exothermic event with much resulting entropy from the oxidation of metals, carbon and sulfur. The sight of fireworks is awe inspiring and even the Green Machine loves to watch rockets, mortars, and Catherine Wheels being fired off in a massive crescendo in the grand finale. The marching songs of John Philip Souza, the taste of hotdogs and a soda, and watching fireworks on July 4th cannot be beat by anything, except perhaps the sight of a Hummer being dismantled.

Austin Texas cancelled their July 4th fireworks based on the severe drought and fire danger of fireworks. I guess the Texans could not say their capital city is broke. Chicago cancelled the city funded fireworks display and let the Navy Pier Authority organize the only fireworks in the Windy City. Fireworks were invented by the Chinese about 1,400 years ago and the love of a fireworks display is universal. Chemicals impart color to fireworks. Red come from either Strontium or Lithium. I always said lithium ion batteries are red not green. Blue comes from copper, yellow from sodium, gold from iron, white from magnesium or titanium, and green from barium. Now that we know barium is green perhaps our department of entropy will fund a barium ion battery.

Talking of barium it is also used in an enema to X-ray the large intestine. I suggest that some of the civil servants at our department of entropy be given one of these enemas so they can get a brain washing and start thinking straight. More seriously barium is a metal that has atomic number 56 in the periodic table of elements. Barium got its name from the Greek word for heavy. It is highly reactive with air so it is also used in vacuum tubes and cathode ray tubes as an air scavenger. No doubt the transistor and LCD displays are far greener than vacuum tube technology and are allowing more barium to be used in enemas as sales of these archaic devices are dropping. Barium oxide is sometime used in fluorescent tubes as a coating on the electrodes as this oxide facilitates the release of electrons. This use adds to the greenness of barium. Barium peroxide is used as a tracer that lights up green in ammunition. All in all barium does serve some purpose other than making fireworks green colored.

The salts of barium that impart the green color to fireworks are barium nitrate and barium monochloride. Barium Sulfate is the salt used in the enema. I hope your pharmacist knows their chemistry and does not mistake the nitrate for the sulfate. I have not performed the reaction of methane with barium nitrate even in a lab. Barium sulfate is also used in drilling mud in the oil and gas industry. Barium is not my favorite element but it is right up there so to speak.

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