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News :: Big bang theories: The pryo-science that guides the geniuses of Boomtown
· 11:34pm November 2nd, 2013
To the fireworks fans who gather each August for Boomtown, the members of the Iowa Pyrotechnic Association may seem like guys who simply like to blow things up.
But anyone who walked into the IPA meeting on Saturday afternoon in Chuck Yedlik's machine shed would understand just how scientific and complicated this hobby really is.
IPA member Jerry Dixon led a class on the chemicals that he and others use to make fireworks. Sharing information from college chemistry courses, Dixon described the different types of fuels, catalysts, explosives and other chemicals that pyrotechnics carefully combine and place in the shells they make.
Dixon discussed the properties of each, the pyrotechnic effect each is designed to accomplish, and how to handle them safely.
"Unlike many of my classmates, I was always fascinated by this subject, although I didn't know at that time what I would use that information to do," said Dixon. The son of a microbiologist and the brother of a pioneer in rocket technology, Dixon said his family has become a group of "chemistry nerds."
In addition to understanding the chemicals that comprise fireworks, and how to safely and effectively combine them, a thorough understanding of pyrotechnics also requires an understanding of the laws of physics, especially concerning the laws of lift and gravity.
After hearing Dixon's lesson, two IPA members debated the speed at which fireworks shells leave the tubes when they are ignited. One of those members told the other he believed that some shells reached the speed of sound as they blasted into the sky; the other man questioned that thesis.
Later, Dixon discussed the size of shells that he makes, telling fellow IPA members that he still has much to learn about making 12-inch round shells before he advances to larger sizes. At most international fireworks event, the largest shells are 24 inches in diameter, although some IPA members say they have seen a few 36-inch shells which are launched up to a mile in the air.
Dixon's class and the discussion was part of the last IPA meeting of the year. The members gather to hold an organizational meeting, share information about fireworks, and -- of course -- to light some.
The quest for information and ideas recently led two IPA members, Tom and Eunice Pingenot, to China, for an international fireworks convention
Eunice Pingenot said that while in China, the couple saw many new and interesting types of fireworks. And she says, "those are things we could do here."
The IPA typically meets once in Vinton in February, then gathers again at Yedlik's Bar-Y northeast of Vinton during the Memorial Day Weekend, where they begin to work on Boomtown, which is scheduled for August 29-30 (the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend).
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