Film Canister Poppers

Film canister poppers in action:

Our film canister poppers are really fun and inexpensive to make, and make a really loud bang! Just be careful when you do it, make sure to use eye protection and adult supervision.

The only items you need are a film canister (you can buy one from the grocery store), some wire, and an electrical ignitor, which you can buy from amazon. Strip the plastic insulation from the ends of the wire, so that the copper is exposed. The, make two small holes on the bottom of the film canister, and insert the two wires. The metal ends should be close, but should not touch like in the picture below.

schematic of the film canister popper

Then, take the other two ends and attach them to the ignitor. The red wire can be soldered or hot-melt glued to the metal tab. The black wire should not be soldered (only glued). We found that the heat from soldering will ruin the ignitor. Your film canister poppers should look like this:

assembled film canister popper

Once everything is set up, try pressing the button in the ignitor. You should see a spark in the film canister. Really cool!  How do you think that happens?

The next thing to do is to fuel your launcher. Perfume in a spray bottle works really well for this. Just spray (once) into the film canister — you want to mist it so spray from 3-4 inches away. Then quickly put the cap on, get ready, and press the ignitor button. There should be a loud bang, and the cap will go flying! For fun, you can put the canister in a cardboard box to make a cannon.

film canister poppers mounted in a cardboard box

What angle should you tilt your launcher to get the cap to fly the furthest? If you’re not sure, try our catapult activity!

How does it work?

How does the ignitor make such a big spark? It likely has a special material inside called a piezoelectric (pee-ayzo-electric). These materials have a special property that cause them to produce electricity when deformed (smushed). Inside the ignitor is a spring-loaded hammer that hits the crystal so hard that it creates electricity at a very high voltage (15,000 volts!).

how the film canister poppers work

The voltage is so strong, it can jump through air creating a spark. This is known as an arc, and is the same thing that happens when lightening occurs. So you basically are creating lightening on a small scale. Pretty cool!


So what happens inside of the film canister poppers? You’re basically creating a chemical reaction. The perfume you sprayed inside the canister is mainly alcohol (ethanol) which is a substance made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. When you sprayed the perfume, you mixed it with air and sealed the gas in the canister.

All that gas needed is a little energy to start a chemical reaction, and you provided that with your miniature lightening bolt! This allowed the ethanol to react with oxygen in the air to produce carbon dioxide, water, and heat! The result is a loud explosion and a small flame.

Hope you have fun with these, and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment!

3 Responses to “Film Canister Poppers”

  1. saroj January 19, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    I like how you explain science behind things so clearly. Thank you

  2. Nayer January 21, 2013 at 3:55 am #

    Thank you I love inventions

  3. shakita February 7, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    love it

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