Note: Opening glowsticks is not a particularly great idea. They contain bits of broken glass and some unpleasant chemicals that can be hazardous to your health! Read full article to learn more.
Glowsticks are incredibly fun, but how do they work!? Naturally because of some very cool science, notable chemistry. Glowsticks are made up of an outer plastic casing with a smaller glass casing inside. The plastic tube is filled with a dye which determines the color of the glowstick and a chemical called diphenyl oxalate. The glass tube contains hydrogen peroxide, the same thing you might use to clean out a cut or scrape.
When you crack the glowstick you break the glass, the hydrogen peroxide is released into the mixture. This causes a series of chemical reactions to take place. The main end products of this chemistry are carbon dioxide and energy, as well as another molecule we will talk about later. The energy that is released goes into the dye, which converts the chemical energy into light energy! The reaction happens slowly, so that the glow lasts for a long time. Companies can vary the amount of each chemical to have glowsticks that glow brightly for a short time or more dimly for a very long time!
It also forms something called phenol that is a somewhat toxic chemical. Repeated exposure to this chemical, and even its vapors can be dangerous. This is why breaking open a glow stick without proper protection is not advisable. There will be phenol and broken glass in the mixture, neither of which are good things to have around! We were very careful, and used protective equipment on our skin as well as working in a well ventilated area to keep ourselves safe!
One interesting thing is that this reaction can be stopped by extreme cold. Check out what happened when we left the glowsticks in liquid nitrogen for a while! Science!