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The glowstick contains two chemicals and a suitable fluorescent dye (sensitizer, or fluorophor). The chemicals in the plastic tube are a mixture of the dye and a derivate of phenyl oxalate ester.  The chemical inside the glass vial is concentrated (about 35%) hydrogen peroxide. By mixing the peroxide with the phenyl oxalate ester, a chemical reaction takes place; the ester is oxidized, yielding two molecules of phenol and one molecule of peroxyacid ester. The peroxyacid decomposes spontaneously to carbon dioxide, releasing energy that excites the dye, which then deexcites by releasing a photon. The wavelength of the photonóthe color of the emitted lightódepends on the structure of the dye.

By adjusting the concentrations of the two chemicals, glowsticks  either glow brightly for a short amount of time, or glow more dimly for a much longer amount of time. At maximum concentration (typically only found in laboratory settings), mixing the chemicals results in a furious reaction, producing large amounts of light for only a few seconds.

Heating a glowstick causes the reaction to proceed faster and the glowstick to glow brighter, but for a shorter period of time. Cooling a glowstick slows the reaction and causes it to last longer, but the light is dimmer. This can be demonstrated by refrigerating or freezing an active glowstick; when it warms up again, it will resume glowing.





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Last modified: June 16, 2015