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?

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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 makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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