Applications of chemicals in the entertainment industry

Chemistry plays a part in the production of virtually everything.  In fact, everyone on the planet is a chemist, but most people don’t realise it.  Think about every time you brush your teeth, or make a cup of tea, or cook something – when you do these things you are reacting chemicals together.

As our understanding of chemistry develops, we are able to do more elaborate things with chemicals, some of which can be quite entertaining.  I will set out how some chemicals are used, in the entertainment industry, to illustrate this point.

Pyrotechnics

I always say there is something hypnotic about a fire.  Indeed, it is primal instinct to be entertained by the production of heat and light.  Pyrotechnics covers a wide range of entertainment practices, such as firework displays and producing flames at concerts.  Chemicals have revolutionised the pyrotechnics industry, for example, using chemicals to create flames of different colours:

  • Borax can be used to produce green flames
  • Calcium chloride can be used to produce orange and red flames
  • Copper chloride can be used to produce blue flames
  • Copper sulphate can be used to produce turquoise flames
  • Magnesium sulphate can be used to produce white flames
  • Potassium permanganate can be used to produce purple flames
  • Sodium chloride (i.e. salt) can be used to produce yellow flames

Smoke, Fog and Artificial Snow

You can’t control the weather, but you can use chemicals to create visual effects such as smoke, fog and snow.  Fog can be created by vaporising glycerol, which creates the illusion of smoke.  Dry ice (liquid carbon dioxide) can be used to create a similar effect, where the smoke produced sits in a thick layer on the ground.  And fake snow can be made by adding sodium polyacrylate to water.

Prosthetics and Make Up

It isn’t just fires and smoke which are entertaining; people are also entertained by gore and blood.  Medical-themed TV programmes often depict injuries, as do many films, which are made all the more realistic with chemicals.  There are an array of different recipes when it comes to making fake blood and prosthetics (like as fake scars and masks) are normally made from Latex.

Other Weird and Wonderful Applications

I know the company who supplied the “chocolate” which was used in the 2005 remake of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.  The film required ‘rivers of chocolate’ but it wouldn’t have been practical to use real chocolate because it would have been too costly and too dangerous, in case someone fell in.  Instead, the film makers added thickeners and colorants to water which gave it the appearance of chocolate without the cost or danger.

There are other applications too, such as the use of adhesives, paintings and coatings when building sets.  I could go on but I’m sure you accept that the examples I have given serve to satisfactorily demonstrate the point that chemicals are widely used in the entertainment industry, as they are  in almost every major industry.

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Working with chemicals

Working With Chemicals

No matter what industry you are in, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to work with chemicals safely.  There are strict legal regulations you must work within when using chemicals, for example:

EU Regulation No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures

EU Regulation No 1907/2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)

The European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road

No matter what chemical you are working with, take time to study the Material Safety Data Sheet, buy chemicals from a reputable source and make sure an expert is on hand.  Chemicals are very entertaining when used correctly but they can also be deadly.

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Guest Author – Rich Hudson, is the Managing Director of a chemical manufacturing company called ReAgent.  He has created numerous chemistry related websites including Chemicals.co.uk, ReAgent.co.uk and TheChemicalBlog.co.uk.  He keeps a personal blog at RichHudson.co.uk.

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