When I swipe a matchstick how does it make fire?
Nathan Kilah/The Conversation
To learn how the match can catch fire, we first need to understand something called “friction”. Friction is when you rub two things together and it creates heat or warmth. Have you ever rubbed your hands together on a cold morning to warm them up? That’s friction.(For the adults reading, friction converts kinetic energy into thermal energy.)Friction is important for the first part of lighting a match. You rub the match head against the red strip on the side of the matchbox.This strip on the box contains a bit of powdered glass to make it extra rough. Scratching the rough match head against the rough strip leads to friction. That creates just enough heat to start a series of chemical reactions.
You probably know about chemical reactions. That’s when one chemical interacts with another chemical, and a change occurs. Maybe you’ve added vinegar to bicarb soda to create a mini volcano. That’s a chemical reaction. Heat can help kick off some chemical reactions or make them happen faster.
There are a lot of chemical reactions involved in the lighting of a atch.Surprisingly, the first chemical to react is not on the match, it is on the box! This chemical is called “red phosphorus”. To our eyes it just looks like a red powder. But if you zoomed right in to see how all its atoms are arranged, it would look like a bunch of triangles and other shapes stuck together into a long chain.When you rub the match on the box, you get friction, which means you get heat.
Fuel + heat + oxygen = fire
You need three ingredients for a fire: fuel, heat, and oxygen.Friction and white phosphorus have provided the starting heat, and now the match needs fuel and oxygen to continue to burn.The fuel comes from the sulfur (that’s another chemical) and wax in the head of the match. It also comes from the wood in the matchstick.
When it comes to oxygen, the match has a secret supply. Stored inside the match head is another chemical called “potassium chlorate”.