Q: Can You Make Homemade Glow Sticks?

Q: Can You Make Homemade Glow Sticks?


A: I used to tell people that it is tedious and time consuming, but homemade glow sticks are possible. Unfortunately, those people weren’t bright enough to realize that when you scrape the radium based paint from old U.S. military watches you have to protect yourself from the radiation. In the volume that was required to make a whole glow stick you should probably be in some sort of containment unit and wearing a lead-lined full body suit! Obviously it would be irresponsible of me to tell people of that method of making glow sticks now that I realize how likely it is that they won’t take the most basic of precautions.

When this question was introduced I began to wonder if there was a safer way for someone to create their own glow stick. That is when I thought of the insects of the Family Lampyridae, or fireflies. I believe that it should be possible to produce a glow stick from the bioluminescent chemicals in the firefly’s abdomen.

It is unlikely that the glow will last for more than a couple of hours so this should be done just before you actually intend to use the glow stick. You should either go outside in the early evening, if you live in a temperate climate, or order a selection of fireflies from a specialty house. You will probably need about 30 to 40 insects per glow stick. In a small beaker you add several tablespoons of a petroleum jelly, and at least one tablespoon of powdered magnesium. You then need to pop your fireflies into a blender and puree the little things. Pour this into the beaker and you should almost immediately see a glow as the juices from the beetles react to the presence of the magnesium. Now just funnel the mixture into a test tube and seal with a rubber stopper. Congratulations on your first homemade glow stick! The few remaining intact legs and pieces of exoskeleton should breakup the glow effect giving your glow stick an interesting mottled appearance. Have fun and feel free to let me know how your glow stick making experience worked out for you. And remember…

Science has some answers!

Author Description

Nicola Delbruck, Ph.D.

Nicola Delbruck, Ph.D.

Dr. Delbruck has a Ph.D. in Biogeography with an emphasis on historical phytogeography. Her special skills have made her the “go to scientist” for many news shows and talk programs where she puts her skills in Science — with a capital “S” — to good use no matter the topic of discussion. She is also the author of several books, including the College Buzz Bestseller List topper Plant Barrios in the Middle Pleistocene Epoch and the forthcoming Science Has Some Answers!

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Lampyrid: Vol 2 2012: The Journal of Bioluminescent Beetle Research (Lampyrid Journal) (Volume 2)

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