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Glow Sticks: Getting the Most Glow for Your Buck
By Joan Whetzel
Glow sticks began appearing around Halloween decades ago. They were marketed as a way to make kids more visible while trick-or-treating on those dark Halloween nights. Now, the "glow technology" is everywhere - in bracelets and necklaces, costumes, and all kinds of novelties. Glow items are sold year round as the sun goes down at fairs and other crowd-pleasing events. The problem is, that you spend your hard earned money on them only to have them die out a few hours later. What is it that makes them glow in the first place? And how do keep the glow from dying out so quickly?
How Glow Sticks Work
Glow sticks work just like all the other glow novelties. They consist of an outer plastic tube that contain the main liquid glow ingredient. Inside the tube is a small glass ampoule or vial that contains a second liquid. It's the mixture of the two liquids that creates the glow, so they are kept separate until you're ready to activate the glow stick.
The Chemistry Behind the Glow
Contrary to popular belief, glow sticks don't get their glow from neon gas. The "neon" glow occurs due to a chemical reaction between the liquids in the plastic tube and the glass ampoule. The combined liquids contain sodium carbonate, ammonium carbonate, copper sulfate pentahydrate, some water, and some hydrogen peroxide to create the chemical reaction. Finally dye is added to produce the desired color, and luminal produces the glow.
Activating the Glow
Activating the glow, like all the glow novelties is an easy two part process. First locate the glass ampoule in one end of the outer tube. You can feel its hardness between your fingers. Press hard on the glass ampoule to break it. Next shake the glow stick to mix the chemicals. Watch the glow come to life. Once mixed, the glow should last 4 to 12 hours before fading to nothingness.
If you're living in a warm climate, the glow be brighter but will last a shorter time, while those living in colder climates will find their glow sticks seem a bit dimmer but last a little longer. This is because warmer temperatures excite the chemicals causing the brighter glow, but also causing the chemicals to become exhausted more quickly. Cooler temperatures, on the other hand, slow down the chemical reaction, which gives the glow sticks a lackadaisical dimness, and causes the glow sticks to last longer.
How to Lengthen the Glow Time
The best way to keep unused glow sticks for long periods of time is to store them, sealed in their original packaging, in a dark cool place. Storing already activated glow sticks in a freezer will extend the glow time for a few more hours.
How to Re-Activate Glow Sticks
As previously stated, sticking activated glow sticks in the freeze slows the chemical reaction to a standstill, so they appear to stop glowing. The chemical reaction isn't really stopping, of course, it's just slowed way down because of the extremely low temperature. Remove the glow sticks from the freezer to warm them back to the ambient temperature and the glow resumes. Keep in mind, that the active glow time remains the same - 4 to 12 hours. So if you have a 12 hour glow stick, which you allowed to glow for 4 hours before putting it in the freezer, it still has 8 hours of glow left in it. The glow does not get recharged back to its maximum 12 hours.
Another way to reactivate a dead glow stick is to place it in boiling water with a pair of tongs, and removing it with the tongs after about 30 seconds. This trick will reinvigorate the chemical reaction to a somewhat dimmer glow for about another 30 minutes.
Keep these hints in mind if you want to continue using glow sticks for Halloween decorations, costumes or trick-or treating. Get as much glow for your money as possible.