Colourful Campfires

Everyone knows that you get yellow fire from burning wood, depending on what you add to a fire you can change the colour of its flame. The reason particular colours are given out is due to the energy level the ‘burning’ happens at. Remember the old period table? (or if you had modern enough science teacher; a periodic galaxy?) well its all down its arrangement.

The Sciencey Bit

(Skip this if you really don’t want to know why) The reason different compounds or elements produce different colours when burnt is the oxygen combines with them changing the arrangement of the atoms electrons.

Electrons form orbits or ‘shells’ with higher levels of potential energy for each one in each each orbit, filling up the bottom orbits first. When an electron is exchanged from one shell to another light (photons) must be emitted with an energy matching the change in ‘height’ (potential energy) to maintain balance. The energy of a photon is determined by the Planck constant multiplied by its frequency (E = h×?) which means that different energies result in different frequencies some of which can be seen as a colour.

The Example Bit

The most readily known examples of coloured fire are interstellar stars, although in all honesty they’re not really balls of fire but energy releasing spheres of luminous plasma. Anyway, they come in a variety of different colours depending on there temperature which is based on there dominant fuel, in the The Sun’s case it is 75% Hydrogen and 24% Helium giving it a yellow colour from our atmosphere. As the Sun ages the Hydrogen will become Helium through fusion and it will appear red, just like the the Sun Krypton orbits in Superman and it is called what is known as a Red Dwarf. As the Helium ‘burns’ together into even denser materials it will eventually change to White Dwarf.

Another example that is slightly more down to Earth is the use of different compounds for stunning sky bound effects called fireworks. To produce the most brilliant colours other elements are used to enhance the colour produced from burning, usually Chlorine, which is toxic in large amounts.

The Safety Bit

WARNING: I wouldn’t suggest acquiring any of these elements and trying it out for yourself, especially since some of these substances alone are radioactive, toxic or both! This is intended as a reverse lookup; you see the colour then work out what made it. I’ve not listed every substance just the ones I could find any information on.

The Referencey Bit

Name Metal Image Flame Notes
Lithium
Li   3
Alkaili Lithium suspended in Oil in Test tube by BioNerd Red to White Lithium Flame by Metal Chem White Fume
Strontium
Sr   38
Alkaline Earth Strontium in Radiation Container by BioNerd Red, Crimson Strontium Flame by V31S70 Violent Reaction in Moisture, White Fume
Calcium
Ca   20
Alkaline Earth Calcium in Test tube by BioNerd Brick Red, Orange Calcium Flame by Metal Chem  
Iron
Fe   26
Transition Iron (filings) in Test tube by daynoir Gold Easily Magnetic, Symbol from the Word ‘Ferrum’
Sodium
Na   11
Alkali Silvery White Yellow Sodium Flame by Metal Chem Easily Cut with Knife, Reactive with Water, White Fume
Manganese
Mn   25
Transition Silvery Metallic Yellowish green Poisonous, esp. if inhaled
Molybdenum
Mo   42
Transition Grey Metallic Yellowish green May have facilitated multicellular lifeforms
Barium
Ba   56
Alkali Earth Barium in Radiation Container by BioNerd Pale/Apple Green Barium Flame by Metal Chem Mades rare Gem Benitoite
Boron
B   5
Metalloids (Deep) Brown Bright green Used in Scientific Glassware
Thallium
Tl   81
Poor Silvery White Pure green Highly Toxic
Antimony
Sb   51
Metalloids Antimony in Test tube by BioNerd Pale green antimony Flame by Metal Chem  
Tellurium
Te   52
Metalloids Lustrous Silver Pale Green  
Phosphorus
P   15
Non Dull Red with White Sheen Pale bluish green Reactive when Cut, therefore used in Matches
Zinc
Zn   30
Transition Zinc in Test tube by BioNerd Bluish Green Zinc Flame by Randeeryan White Fume
Arsenic
As   33
Metalloids Arsenic in Test tube by BioNerd Blue Extremely poisonous
Bismuth
Bi   83
Poor Bismuth in Test tube by BioNerd Blue Slightly Radioactive, Very Low Toxicity, Yellow Fume
Caesium
Cs   55
Alkaili Caesium in Radiation Container by BioNerd Blue Slightly Radioactive
Copper
Cu   29
Transition Copper in Test tube by BioNerd Blue Copper Flame by Randeeryan Black Fume
Indium
In   49
Poor Light Grey Blue Used in Liquid Crystal Displays, Toxic
Lead
Pb   82
Post-transition Lead suspended in Oil in Test tube by BioNerd Blue High Density, Toxic, Stops Xrays Easily
Selenium
Se   34
Non Dark Grey with metallic sheen Azure blue Key Ingredient in Head’n’Shoulders, MacGuffin in Evolution
Potassium
K   19
Alkali Metal Silvery White Purple Potassium Flame by everyones idle Highly Reactive with Water
Rubidium
Rb   37
Alkali Grey White Red-violet Rubidium Flame by Metal Chem Highly Reactive with Water OR air
Aluminium
Al   13
Poor Aluminium in Test tube by BioNerd White Common Use, Very High Strength:Weight Ratio
Magnesium
Mg   12
Alkaline Earth Magnesium in Test tube by BioNerd White Magnesium Flame by I. Gelgard White Fume
Titanium
Ti   22
Transition Titanium in Test tube by BioNerd White Food Colourant E171 (Titanium Dioxide)

Photo credits:

Wood in the UK and Campfires

Since Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and given it to man we have used it for both work and pleasure. A wood burning campfire is one of my favourite ways to enjoy this privilege and since being taught in (Cub) Scouts I’ve made quite a few. There are a variety of different ways to set one up and each has it uses, for instance a Jamaican-log-fire or Cross-fire (2 logs parallel with tinder between them and kindling ontop) maximizes heat retention and is best for cooking whereas a log cabin or pyramid/teepee is best for emanating heat for warmth. Whilst I know several ways to set up and light the wood I find that I know very little about the wood itself so I started gathering lists of wood/trees in Britain. It became obvious that I wouldn’t want to just stop at names so I’ve put some other bits aside for future posts.

It’s not been easy gathering this information, so many species and variants in so many places the only exacting way to keep track was referencing each by its Latin name instead of it common name.
For those of you without a photographic memory you may need to work at remembering all the flat information. One of my favourites is Fraxinus excelsior or Ash, which as the name implies is a good fire wood and helps me retain the knowledge by association.

English and Latin Wood Names and Family

Family Name (Britain) Name Elsewhere Latin
Alder (Common) Alder Alder Alnus glutinosa
Alder Alder Buckthorn Black Dogwood Rhamnus frangula
Apple Crab Apple Apple Malus sylvestris
Ash (Common) Ash White Ash Fraxinus excelsior
Beech Copper (European) Beech Fagus sylvatica
Birch Silver Birch Gray Birch Betula pendula
Birch Downy Birch or White Birch White Birch Betula pubescens
Box Box Boxelder Buxus sempervirens
Cherry & Plum Wild Cherry Prunus avium
Cherry & Plum Bird Cherry Prunus padus
Cherry & Plum Blackthorn or ‘Plum’ Sloe Prunus spinosa
Blackhaw (European) Cranberrybush Guelder-rose Viburnum opulus
Blackhaw Wayfaring Tree Viburnum lantana
Dogwood Common Dogwood Cornus sanguinea
Elder Elder Sambucus nigra
Elm Wych Elm Slippery Elm Ulmus glabra
Elm English Elm Ulmus procera
Hawthorn Common Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna
Hawthorn Midland Hawthorn Crataegus laevigata
Hazel Common Hazel Corylus avellana
Hornbeam European (common) Hornbeam Ironwood Carpinus betulus
Holly European Holly Holly, American Ilex aquifolium
Ditypic or Soapberry (Common) Horse Chestnut Buckeye Aesculus hippocastanum
Juniper (Common) Juniper Juniperus communis
Family Name (Britain) Name Elsewhere Latin
Linden Small-leaved Linden/Lime
Large-leaved Linden/Lime
Basswood Tilia cordata Tilia platyphyllos
Maples Field Maple Acer campestre
Maple Plane Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus
Oak English Oak Pedunculate Oak Quercus robur
Oak Sessile Oak Quercus petraea
Oak Turkey Oak Quercus cerris
Pine Monterey Pine Pinus radiata
Pine Scots Pine Pinus sylvestris
Poplar Aspen Populus tremula
Poplar Black Poplar Cottonwood Populus nigra
Rose Pear Pyrus communis
Rowan & Whitebeam European Rowan or Mountain Ash Wiggen Tree Sorbus aucuparia
Rowan & Whitebeam (Common) Whitebeam Sorbus aria
Rowan & Whitebeam Service Tree Sorbus domestica
Rowan & Whitebeam Wild Service Tree Checkers Tree Sorbus torminalis
Bittersweet Common Spindle Tree Euonymus europaeus
Strawberry Tree Strawberry Tree Arbutus unedo
Willow Grey ‘Pussy’ Williow Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia
Willow Bay Willow Salix pentandra
Willow Crack Willow Salix fragilis
Willow White Willow Willow Salix alba
Willow Almond-leaved Willow Salix triandra
Yew European ‘Common’ Yew Yew Taxus baccata
Walnut Walnut Walnut Juglans regia
Family Name (Britain) Name Elsewhere Latin

Key

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