In this glow stick experiment, we will learn how glow sticks work because of a fascinating process called chemiluminescence. This word means it’s a chemical reaction producing light.
We use some big words in this lesson, but even preschoolers will enjoy watching the glow sticks glow in cups of water—in the dark! So, grab several packets and enjoy the glow stick experiment with the whole family!
How chemiluminescence happens
Inside the glow stick, there are two separate liquids. One contains a fluorescent dye, which gives the glow stick its color, and the other liquid contains hydrogen peroxide.
A chemical reaction is activated when you bend and snap the glow stick and break a barrier that separates the dye and hydrogen peroxide. These two liquids then mix.
The hydrogen peroxide reacts with the fluorescent dye. This reaction involves the breaking and forming of chemical bonds. As a result of the chemical reaction, energy is released.
The fluorescent dye absorbs this energy, causing its electrons to jump to higher energy levels. This is like the dye getting excited. As the electrons return to their normal (lower) energy states, they release the extra energy in the form of visible light. This is what creates the cool glow we see in the glow stick.
The fluorescent dye absorbs this energy, causing its electrons to jump to higher energy levels. This is like the dye getting excited.
As the electrons return to their normal (lower) energy states, they release the extra energy in the form of visible light. This is what creates the cool glow we see in the glow stick.
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Kinetic Energy and the Glow Stick Experiment
Kinetic energy is the energy associated with the motion of an object.
Imagine you have a soccer ball, and you kick it. That kick gives the soccer ball kinetic energy because it’s now moving!
If you bounce a ball up and down. As it goes up and down, it’s using kinetic energy to move. When you lift the ball, you’re giving it more kinetic energy.
Every Moving Thing Has Kinetic Energy
Just like the ball, you have kinetic energy when you run or jump too! Your moving body has this special energy because it’s in motion.
When you swing on a swing, going back and forth, that’s kinetic energy at play. You’re moving, and that movement is full of energy.
Kinetic Energy and Glow Sticks – What’s the Connection in this Glow Stick Experiment
Now, let’s connect kinetic energy to glow sticks. When you bend and snap a glow stick to make it glow, you’re giving it a burst of kinetic energy. It’s like waking up the glow stick and making it start moving in its own way.
The kinetic energy generated by bending and breaking the glow stick is transferred to the chemicals inside. This energy initiates the chemical reaction.
As part of the chemical reaction, electrons in the fluorescent dye become excited and move to higher energy levels. This movement of electrons represents kinetic energy.
Chemiluminescence in Nature
Chemiluminescence isn’t just limited to glow sticks; it occurs in some animals, too.
One notable example is found in certain types of bioluminescent organisms. Fireflies are a classic example. The light they produce results from a chemiluminescent reaction happening in their bodies.
Some jellyfish and even certain types of fungi also exhibit chemiluminescence.
Inside the firefly’s body, there are special chemicals that play a crucial role in creating light. These chemicals are luciferin and an enzyme called luciferase.
When a firefly wants to light up, it combines luciferin with oxygen and the enzyme luciferase.
The combination of luciferin, oxygen, and luciferase triggers a chemical reaction. During this reaction, the luciferin changes its structure, and energy is released.
Like glow sticks, this released energy excites electrons in the luciferin. They jump to higher energy levels, getting all energetic.
As these excited electrons calm down and return to their normal state, they release the extra energy in the form of light. That’s the beautiful glow you see when a firefly lights up.
Fireflies use this light for communication. They flash in specific patterns to signal other fireflies. It’s like they’re talking to each other in their own light language, especially during the mating season.
Glow Stick Experiment – How-To and Video
Glow Stick Experiment
- 2 packages glow sticks
- 1 cup each of hot, cold, and room temperature water
- 1/2 cup ice
- 1 printout of the accompanying lab sheet
- This works best observing the glow sticks in a darkened room.
- Before getting started, remember we are going to use a scale of 1 to 10 to rate the brightness. 1 is no light at all, and 10 is used if it’s an extremely bright glow.
- Label the three containers as “Ice“ or “Ice Water”"Room Temp” and "Warm Water.“
- Pour cold water with ice into the “Ice” cup, pour room temperature water into the “Room Temp” cup, and pour hot water into the “Hot Water” cup.
- Bend three glow sticks so they begin their chemical reaction and glow.
- Place a glow stick in each of the three labeled cups.
- Fill in the “Start Time” on the Observation Sheet
- Quickly take the temperature of each cup of water and write it on the observation sheet.
- Observe the glow of each stick. What do you notice? Write your observations on the sheet.
- Take your fourth glow stick and put it in the hot water for a minute or two. Then, move it to the cold water. Did you notice anything?
- Observe the first three glow sticks; what do you notice as time passes? When do you start to see a change in brightness in any of the glow sticks? Record your observations on the Observation Sheets
- Keep watching the glow sticks and filling out the chart on the Observation Sheet. Answer the discussion questions.
Get the Glow Stick Experiment FREE Lesson & Worksheets
Use our free printable pack to record observations and answer the discussion questions.
Additional Activities to Complement the Glow Stick Experiment
I hold a master’s degree in child development and early education and am working on a post-baccalaureate in biology. I spent 15 years working for a biotechnology company developing IT systems in DNA testing laboratories across the US. I taught K4 in a private school, homeschooled my children, and have taught on the mission field in southern Asia. For 4 years, I served on our state’s FIRST Lego League tournament Board and served as the Judging Director. I own thehomeschoolscientist and also write a regular science column for Homeschooling Today Magazine. You’ll also find my writings on the CTCMath blog. Through this site, I have authored over 50 math and science resources.