Create colorful art while doing an exciting science experiment! Making film canister rocket fireworks is the perfect way to add a little bit of art into a fun STEM activity. At the end of this article you will find several more patriotic science activities that are perfect for celebrating national holidays.
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We have launched film canister rockets several times. Usually we just make Alka-Seltzer rockets with water, but a couple of weeks ago we launched film canister rockets with dry ice, which was super cool! This time when I got out the paint with our 35mm film canisters the kids were duly intrigued. They came right over to see what I had planned.
First we assembled the rockets inside before heading outside to launch them. We gathered the following supplies:
I wanted to create a piece of art in addition to doing some science. We decided to use red, white, and blue paint mixed with glitter to create fireworks on a poster board.
The kids filled the film canisters about 1/4 of the way full with tempura paint. Some of the paint was pretty thick so we added a few drops of water to thin it out a bit. We added glitter to each film canister, just for fun.
Then we headed outside with the poster board, our film canisters, and the Alka-Seltzer tablets to launch our rockets and create film canister rocket fireworks.
Launching a Film Canister Rocket
Once we were outside I placed the poster board on a level spot. The wind was blowing a little so we used some big rocks to hold the poster board in place.
The kids stood back a few feet while I dropped half a tablet of Alka-Seltzer into each film canister. I carefully popped the lid back on, shook it a little bit so I was sure the Alka-Seltzer was wet, and placed the film canisters upside down on the poster board. Then I quickly stepped back and waited.
It took 1-2 minutes, but one-by-one each of the film canister rockets popped up into the air, leaving a gorgeous splatter pattern behind. Our film canister fireworks really worked!
We launched six rockets, but the artwork we created was so beautiful I wished we had launched more. It was such a fun way to create patriotic fireworks art!
The Science Behind Film Canister Rocket Fireworks
Why does the film canister rocket launch so high into the air?
The key is the reaction between Alka-Seltzer and water. Alka-Seltzer tablets are made of citric acid and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). When the tablets are dry, nothing happens, but when they dissolve in water, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate mix together to produce carbon dioxide gas. As the gas is produced, pressure builds up inside the film canister until finally the top pops right off and the film canister shoots upward!
Tempera paint is water-based so the Alka-Seltzer dissolves in it. The cool thing about using paint instead of just plain water is that you can create brilliant art while doing a fun science experiment!