Trial by Fire

Since 2009, the Seine-Saint-Denis County Council has been backing “la Culture et l’Art au Collège (CAC)”. This project is based to a large extent on the presence in class for several weeks (40 hours) of an artist or scientist whose mission is to engage the students in a process of research and creation.


chemistS, pyrotechnicists

Project Manager:
Mathieu Marion


The title of this project summarises the issues it addresses. Firstly, the students are introduced to the techniques that combine chemistry and the art of pyrotechnics: combustion, combustive and combustible, how does it all work? What is the correct composition to combine sulphur, saltpetre and aluminium? Then, the students take part in a competition. The candidates present their final project to the jury; which categories will they enter for? Which special (light and sound) effects? What is their narrative? What music will they use? To help the students navigate through this universe and devise their own production, the workshop is organised into two phases:

The Science of Combustion
What are the connections between chemistry and pyrotechnics? What reactions and chemical transformations occur during combustion? To understand how fireworks function, the class delves into the heart of the different pyrotechnic processes. With the chemist, this initial phase is structured around experiments and tests to learn  the basic principles (understanding proportions, reactions, detonations, friction) and understand components and elements (gunpowder and metals, potassium and sodium). To complete this phase, the students take apart and analyse industrial fireworks: fuse, powder, paper tubes and lighting mechanisms.

Shapes, colours and displays
Using a video of a firework display, the students dissect and discuss its technical and artistic principles. It’s now up to them to devise their own “narrative” and study the three criteria for the final competition (synchronisation, best special effects and originality of the scenarios). With the pyrotechnicist, the class plans the sequence, colours and forms, and outlines them; they also incorporate visual and sound effects specific to their original firework display: coloured smoke, flashes, detonations and the choice of music. They gather together their intentions into a scenario and enter this onto software to design firework displays.


Participating Schools:
- Antoine Laurent de Lavoisier, Pantin
- Marcelin Berthelot, Montreuil
- Jean Jaurès, Saint Ouen
- Marcel Cachin, Le Blanc Mesnil
- Maximilien Robespierre, Epinay-sur-Seine



Trial by fire
Trial by fire
Trial by fire