I understand that when the glow sticks snaps, it produces light, and that process is called triboluminescence. But I don't understand how that works

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ As noted in the answers, triboluminescence is not the correct explanation. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 14, 2016 at 16:04
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Light from a chemical reaction is chemiluminescence. Triboluminescence is the emission of light caused by rubbing, scratching, or similar frictional contact of a substance. Two quartz pebbles rubbed together will create triboluminescence. $\endgroup$
    – MaxW
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:17
  • $\begingroup$ See this and the links therein:chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/35527/… $\endgroup$ Oct 15, 2016 at 6:15

2 Answers 2


A glow stick is composed of two different compounds (normally diphenyl oxalate and hydrogen peroxide), separated by a thin, breakable, barrier. When you bend the glow stick, the barrier breaks, causing these two compounds to be mixed together. When this happens, hydrogen peroxide causes the diphenyl oxalate to break down into phenol and peroxyacid ester. The peroxyacid ester then breaks down into $\ce{CO2}$, transferring energy to some sort of a dye that then releases it to produce light.


Simple answer: It is a simple chemical reaction. Any and all chemical reactions produce some form of energy output as a result of changing factors.

In the example of a glow-stick, you have 2 separate chemicals contained in the tube, separated by a thin barrier. When you snap the glow-stick, it breaks that barrier separating the two and allows them to mix together, creating the chemical reaction.

The energy output of that particular slow reaction is production of visible light. This is why glow-sticks are never reusable. Once the reaction is done. It can't be recreated without fresh chemicals.

Fire spreads because its chemical reaction results in an output of a large amount of heat. That heat is what is required to begin the reaction in the first place, so the radiant heat from the fuel source currently undergoing that reaction causes nearby fuel sources to heat up enough to also ignore.

Water puts out fire because of the huge evaporative properties it has. When water hits an object on fire, it immediately evaporates. Evaporation has the (handy in this case) side effect of removing a large amount of heat energy from whatever is around it... Removing the heat stops the chemical reaction from continuing, thus putting out the fire.


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