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I have lots of hare-brained projects involving chemiluminescence that are currently back-burnered because the chemical that causes the bright chemiluminescence of commercial glowsticks, i.e. trichlorophenyl oxalate (TCPO, shown below), is relatively hard for hobbyists to acquire. I’ve even gone to the trouble of setting up a business account with a major chemical supplier, establishing business credit references, and getting my residential address approved to receive chemical shipments from them. Just so I could log onto their website and order 100g of TCPO. Which I did many months ago. It’s been back-ordered with their supplier since then. Who knows when or if I’ll ever actually get it.


This video from YouTuber NurdRage comes with a lot of caveats: the synthesis of TCPO from trichlorophenol and oxalyl chloride is relatively straightforward as syntheses go, and the starting materials are much easier to acquire than TCPO itself, but they’re still not at all grocery-store type compounds. And it’s not a thing to attempt without the expertise, equipment, and facilities to do it safely. Plus the creepy “Jigsaw” voice effect that the narrator uses to disguise his identity doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. There’s nothing illegal about this procedure, as far as I know, but I think he wants to remain anonymous so nobody can sue him if they try to play along at home and end up burning it down.

Nonetheless, I was grateful to find this video in the tubes, and will probably attempt it myself at some point. Famous last words, anyone?

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

  • John Park

    That was very cool, great find. Sad to say, since I know so little about it, chemistry is like magic to me. Any idea of the cost of making this amount of glowing magic?

    • bjr54

      About $350 will get you enough chemicals to make 250g (enough for about 30 Liters of glow stick goodness!) Unfortunately, ordering smaller quantities doesn’t really affect the price much; most of the cost is shipping and packaging. If you will be working in small quantities, you’d probably be better off buying the cheaper diphenyl oxalate ($100/25g) which has a similar but slightly dimmer effect. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of the chemicals other than TCPO used by the glowstick reaction!

      If you don’t know much about chemistry, I’d suggest you start by playing around with luminol ($40/5g). It doesn’t require organic solvents and as a bonus experiment you can do blood residue detection with it too! The main downside to luminol is that it isn’t as bright and can’t be made to glow in a wide variety of colors.

  • SEO

    great stuff here.

  • Ricky Mathews

    The derivatives of trichlorophenol oxalate (Oxalyl chloride, triethylamine, 2,4,6-trichlorophenol) are all either extremely flammable or extremely toxic if inhaled small amounts. In a solution, you can’t guarantee that their yield, even it was 100%, remains at 100%, as products don’t always stay products. So it’s likely that prior to reacting your cyalume with hydrogen peroxide, it will contain oxalyl chloride and triethylamine and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol,

    You’ll need 9,10-diphenylanthrocene to dissolve in diethyl phthalate and then heat it. DON’T USE FIRE DO NOT USE FIRE USE A HOT PLATE

    also you’ll need hydrogen peroxide to react with the cyalume and anthrocene. That’s what makes the light.

    So yeah main point is be really careful, try not to breathe or have fire around the cyalume and tbh you’re retarded for doing this without someone experienced. Unless you are, in which case ignore everything I just said and have fun.

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