Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pyrotechnics Branch Chief Sparks Youth Interest in Fireworks and Pyrotechnics Through Local STEM Presentations

Joseph Domanico, Chief of the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s (ECBC) Pyrotechnics and Explosives Branch, found a way to turn his passion into his job, a hobby and an extracurricular activity. His resounding love for the sparkles and mystery behind fireworks landed him an invitation to four interactive “science behind pyrotechnics” presentations at Havre de Grace Middle School. The presentations to eight middle school classrooms earned him the unofficial title of “local expert.” 
Havre de Grace’s invitation came after the school heard about Domanico’s presentation at Bel Air Middle School this past December where he addressed more than 100 eighth-graders about the science behind pyrotechnics. Domanico’s presentations are designed to encourage middle school students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
Domanico bears light on traditional science lessons through the real-world application of subjects like chemistry and physics.
“I enjoy sharing my knowledge and passion for fireworks with students in school presentations. It’s earned me the nickname “Dr. Pyro.”
In his presentations, Domanico first gives a snapshot of his personal career and the history of fireworks, and then he unveils the science behind pyrotechnics. Through videos and real-world demonstrations, students became familiarized with the concepts of exothermic chemical reactions and energy release as well as additive and subtractive colors.
“When I look at the periodic table, it comes alive to me,” Domanico said. “I see potassium as purple, barium as green and sodium as yellow. Based on this chart, we know which chemical elements to use to create an array of different colors in pyrotechnics products.”
Domanico went a step further to visualize how energy and color production can be manipulated by adding different fuels and elements. By intertwining chemistry with its practical application in pyrotechnics during his presentation, he reinforced that the acquisition of in-depth knowledge in STEM disciplines will empower them to pursue rewarding career paths and impact the world around them.
“It takes a multi-disciplinary team approach to develop pyrotechnics products the right way,” Domanico said. “To name some of the subject matter experts in demand for this type of work, we need electrical engineers for the wiring, mechanical engineers for the structure design and chemists to create the colors.”
Domanico spreads his knowledge and love for pyrotechnics in other venues such as his membership in both East Coast and West Coast Fireworks Clubs, a directorship in the International Fireworks Society, and participation in activities with the Boy Scouts of America. Additionally, Domanico takes the time to individually mentor students who are interested in the science. Currently, he is assisting a young girl with her science project on fireworks.
“I made a youth presentation at Towson University for the Hackerman Academy of Mathematics and Science as part of the Saturday Morning Science Program and a girl named Alisha approached me about her fifth grade science project on fireworks,” Domanico said. “Alisha’s science project covers the production of fireworks and how different colors are created.”
To get her inspired and ready to start her science project, Domanico gave Alisha a gift, a children’s book called “How it Happens in the Fireworks Factory,” that he signed with words of inspiration. In addition to sparking interests in fireworks and science, Domanico says he hopes to break the negative stereotypes that fireworks and pyrotechnics unjustly earned over the years.
“There is a real stigma about fireworks, and kids are raised to believe it,” Domanico said. “If you Google fireworks, the first thing that comes up is the BOMBZ people who have firecrackers in their mouths, and it’s nothing good. It gives the impression that the average person isn’t smart enough to safely handle fireworks; and that simply is not true.”
Domanico sites “fireworks hobbyists” as average people who safely execute extraordinary fireworks displays. With proper safety awareness, Domanico said he believes anybody can do it. Promoting safety and explaining the layers of the chemistry behind fireworks, is the mindset Domanico promotes in his student presentations.
“It’s awesome that ECBC supports these STEM programs, and that we have visionary management who are willing to support employees’ participation in such events,” Domanico said.

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