The TECH Behind PyroTECHnics
Sitting atop a comfy blanket, stomach full of fine cheeses and gourmet crackers, surrounded by your loved ones…a smile slowly creeps across your face. A day of planning and preparation is about to culminate in the perfect 4th of July evening. Suddenly, music kicks in and a BOOM!, the first firework launches toward the heavens — it’s colors exploding brilliantly across the clear night sky. “Oohh’s” and “Aahh’s” ripple through the crowd as the show begins in earnest — each firework perfectly timed to the notes of a familiar song. As you gaze up in awe, I bet you're wondering what it takes to pull off such an incredible show. Well, we have your answer!
A Brief TECHistory
Once an incredibly dangerous enterprise, pyrotechnical displays (or fireworks shows as we have taken to calling them) have come a long way since they were invented by the Chinese in the 12th century. According to History.com, the Chinese happened to find a sort of natural firecracker by roasting bamboo, which explodes when heated because of the expanding air in it's natural air pockets.
In the beginning, they used such explosions to ward off evil spirits, but like all forms of excitement, they became hungry for more. Chinese alchemists mixed together saltpepper, charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients sometime between 600 and 900 A.D to eventually create gunpowder. Stuffing this volatile substance into the bamboo shoots, and throwing them into the fire, the Chinese finally found the adrenaline junkie, pyromaniac explosion they were looking for, and hence, the firework was born.
Modern Day PyroTECHnics
Gone are the demon-scaring, unpredictable, home-made days of yore. Unlike the life-threatening, house almost burning down, 911 calls from the neighbors, backyard firework shows produced by your dad, professional pyrotechnic displays are a true technical marvel. Not to make the same mistakes their dads did, and wanting to keep their spectators safe as well as their own fingers in the right place, Pyrotechnicians (the designers of firework shows) start working months in advance to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.
Sophisticated computer programs like Finale Fireworks, help these technicians choreograph every element of their performance. The software allows them to simply pick a musical piece and insert a picture of the location of the show as the background. Once that's completed, they’re able to pick from thousands of graphical effects that mimic various types of real-life firework shells and simulate the show from beginning to end.
Check out this example from Sydney and try not to be amazed. AH! This just got me excited for the 4th of July, it's better than my birthday!...well almost...
You can't give all the credit to computer software for this modern-day spectacle, Fireworks themselves are chock full of technology. According to TMS.org and their in-depth discussion with Zambelli Fireworks Internationale, microchips have replaced fuses in order to not only save fingers, but also to be more precise when they're creating the sweet aerial artwork we all "Ooooh and Awwwweeee" at once the sun goes down. Wait...I bet you're asking yourself, "Did I just read that correctly?" YEP you did! Firework displays are so advanced that every single light that you see in the sky is precisely timed with a combination of software and microchips, a similar technology that was originally used by NASA to put a man on the moon and all for your enjoyment.
Of course technology hasn’t made everything possible…yet.
Words, phrases....and happy faces, are still a work in progress. Like when your computer suddenly crashes or your phone doesn't send a text, sometimes these microchips short circuit and take on a mind of their own, kind of like the little guy in the middle shown above.... So if you're thinking about proposing to your significant other by wowing them with a passionate, pyrotechnic display of your love, think again. You'll be better off writing their name in the sky via airplane or putting a ring in their favorite food....well maybe not the last one, The Knot doesn't suggest it and you wouldn't want them to choke on that magic three-letter-word you're dying for them to say, but you get the point.
So for this 4th of July, unless you're really hellbent on possibly sacrificing your fingers, face and your neighbors sanity, maybe leave it to the professional pyro's who've used technology to make it all possible.
(Header photo compliments of cesarsway.com)