Latest Content
Latest Community Postings
Recent Blog Entries
Community Downloads
ChExpress Blog
Ankur's Tech Blog
Community Admin Blog
Energy Efficient Hot and Cold Water
Electrical Process Tomography
Biodiesel: The Road Ahead
Methanol Plant Capacity Enhancement
Plate and Frame Heat Exchangers: Preliminary Design
Compressor Surging Under Control
Plant and Equipment Wellness, Part 1: Observing Variability

Share this topic:

banner2.gif (6526 bytes)

What Makes Light Sticks Glow?

     If you've ever bent a light stick and stared in amazement as it produced light from two liquids then you know what makes chemiluminescence so interesting.  Chemiluminescence is defined as the production of light energy from a chemical reaction without the use of heat or a flame.

     On the molecular level, chemiluminescence can be explained as a reaction that produces atoms in an excited state.  An excitation reaction that produces 40-70 kcal/mole of energy can be seen by the naked eye.  These are the types of reactions that are used in making these amazing light sticks that many of us enjoyed as children.  As is often the case, nature helped lead scientists to the discovery of these reactions.  The firefly is the model of efficiency when it comes to producing light from chemical reactions.  The firefly is able to reach an efficiency of 88% while synthetic reactions are only able to achieve a 23% efficiency at best.

     Light sticks are activated by bending them and rupturing a capsule inside the stick.  This allows the two liquids to mix and the
reaction begins.  The liquid that makes up the majority of the light stick is called the "oxalate."  A typical oxalate solution is prepared by mixing bis(2,3,5-trichloro-6-carbonpentoxyphenyl) oxalate and dibutyl phthalate.  This mixture is heated under nitrogen for an hour.  Then another component called 9,10-bis(phenylethynyl) anthracene is added.  

     A typical activator can be prepared as shown below.  The light stick contains three parts oxalate and one part activator (contained in the capsule).

   +      +      +

  +    = ACTIVATOR

     Interested in learning more about chemiluminescence?  Check out:

Chemiluminescence Movies and Resources


US Patent Number 4,064,428

Chemfinder Website (


By: Christopher Haslego, Owner and Chief Webmaster (read the author's Profile)

smalllogo.gif (4001 bytes)

  • Stay up to date on new content
  • Post questions and answers in our forums
  • Access downloads and attachments
  • Read member blogs and start your own blog
  • Connect with members via our friends feature
  • Receive and post status updates