Homemade fireworks

Homemade fireworks

I made my own fireworks.

[That sounds dangerous.]

It was.  Would you like to see the scars?  They’re right here.

[Let’s see how many fingers you have left.]

I was stirring together, I wanted to make something go boom, so I was stirring together a stoichiometric mixture of potassium chloride and red phosphorus, and the friction from stirring caused it to detonate.  This was, of course, in an evaporating dish.  So I got a bunch of porcelain shrapnel in my hand, thighs.  And the explosion product, pitting the plastic lenses of my glasses.  So anyhow, that’s when the research funding got cut off.  But before that, actually, there were several of us who were sort of interested in doing stuff.  So I remember we went to one guy, in the basement he had sort of his own chemistry lab, so I suggested for making a smoke bomb that we use a mixture, stoichiometric mixture of potassium chloride and sugar, and then add some ammonium chloride to it, because ammonium chloride heated up, you know, gives big fumes, you know? So anyhow, we set this thing off and the cloud just about enveloped the whole house.


Outside. Yeah, we set it off outside.  And I guess before that–if you take ordinary lye and mix it with water, put it in a coke bottle or something like that and then you drop in pieces of aluminum, the aluminum will react with the sodium chloride, sodium hydroxide, to form hydrogen. So you put a 3×5 index card over the top of this thing and then, you know, wait awhile.  And then you put a balloon over the thing and the hydrogen will fill up the balloon.  You can tie it off, then you can, at night you put a little fuse on the thing, let the thing go, and you see this little spark going up in the air.  And then all of the sudden you see a…  Well, actually, I had a little potassium chlorate and some sugar in the little straw taped to the balloon so it started going around in circles.  And then the balloon popped.

[You might mention what you were when you grew up. Your occupation.]

Oh, when I retired I was managing the nuclear magnetic resonating facilities at the University of Iowa.

[In case you didn’t guess.]

So, my degrees say I’m a chemist, but I’m actually I’d guess I’d say, I’m a physical chemist or chemical physicist depending on whether you’re right handed or left handed. Before then, I guess I read, went to the library.  Read all the technical books they had there.  I read the ham radio book, the thick one, you know?  I read that from cover to cover.  I think I was around twelve or something like that, maybe earlier.  Before that, this was when I lived in Redondo Beach, this was after the war.  During the war and a little bit after the war, until I was about nine, we lived in Los Angeles.  I was born in Chicago, but my parents moved to Los Angeles less than a year after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.  And Dad worked–I guess for a brief time, at one point, he did work in one of the aircraft planes, but most of the time he was working sort of in support. Tool and die maker; actually, he drove out to California and told people he was a tool and die maker because he had been a punch press operator and he had, you know, looked at the dies that were used in the punch presses.  Okay, so that’s how they work and so forth.  So yeah, I’m a tool and die maker.  And it stuck, you know.

[May I ask a question? Did your parents carry extra insurance on you as a child?]


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