Spotlight on Glow Sticks, Personally and Historically   

By RANDY BROWN | Oct 31, 2018

Here it is – Halloween, costumes, parties, candy and ... glow sticks!

It is hard to say when I first cracked a glow stick. With the start of holiday season (or silly season, as some of us like to call it), we will start seeing all types of luminous objects of every color around necks, wrists, heads and any other imaginable object. I love shiny, colorful and, especially, lighted things. I guess I am part crow, a bird known to collect any shiny object in its nest. My room would prove that.

As a child growing up in the ’70s, I vaguely remember a small tube of plastic that, when broken, would turn green. That seemed to be the original color. Later on in my life, when I discovered the love of adult beverages and entered the local bar scene on LBI, I would order expensive cocktails, which were usually obscenely large. After quite a few it would be difficult to talk, walk and, well, see! You’d think a normal person (whatever that is considered) would just go home. No, not me.

I figured out if I put a glow stick in my large cocktail I would not lose it! At $5 a drink, that was something I definitely wanted to keep track of. In a sea of cocktails littered around a packed bar I could pick out my drink because it was the only one glowing. Later on I walked through The Ketch almost every night, summer after summer, selling necklaces to our tourist population. If I could have only used my powers for good it would have saved me a lot of trouble over the next decades.

After doing some research I discovered that a young student, soon to be a doctor, Edwin A. Chandross, got interested in chemiluminescence while watching an experiment with luminol when he was at MIT. Fascinated by this glowing material that did not produce heat, just light, he did some “bootleg” experimentations as a graduate student. In 1959 he took a position at Bell Labs, where he tested more theories with luminol. Although his results did not prove what he was looking for, they did lead him further toward a semi-successful gateway to chemiluminescence.

Discovering that hydrogen peroxide and oxaxlic acid lit up ever so faintly, Dr. Chandross could be dubbed the “The Glowfather.” He claimed that all this took him only a day. Although the brightness of these initial combinations was very faint (1 percent of what we see now), there was a glow. Dr. Chandross was unaware of the soon-to-be monumental discovery and its effect on rave parties across the world. He really is not recognized as the inventor. And Bell Labs claims that it had no idea this bright idea would turn into a multimillion-dollar product.  

Another scientist, Michael M. Rauhut at American Cyanamid in Stamford, Conn., kept up experiments with hydrogen peroxide and oxalyl chloride and finally perfected a combination of phenyl oxalate ester mixed with hydrogen peroxide and different color dyes that worked. It was given the trademark name of Cyalume.

Although many of us have used glow sticks for numerous purposes including road accidents, fishing, camping and, of course, festivities, the biggest beneficiary is the military.

So next time you crack a glow stick, you will be able to pass on these pearls of wisdom about the fun, little stick of light.

Randy Brown lives in Spray Beach.




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