There’s so much more to a glass pipe than how well it hits. When the masses come into smoke shops daily, eyes wandering over carefully arranged display shelves of spoon pipes, bubblers, glass Sherlocks, and more, they’re not looking for how well each piece performs as a first impression. We’re not kidding ourselves, performance is possibly the most important aspect of a quality glass pipe, but it’s not exactly an eye-catching trait. No, the first impression often comes from the pipe’s decoration; it’s colors, fritting, shape, glass knockers, etc. We’ve highlighted the importance of glass pipe decoration before, but we haven’t really talked about glow-in-the-dark pipes. These are the only smoking pieces that can catch your eye with the lights out, but how do glass blowers get that ethereal glow in the ever-reliable borosilicate? It may look like magic, but it’s actually simple science.
The science behind glow-in-the-dark pipes comes down to a substance classified as a phosphor. Phosphors give items luminescence or phosphorescence; another way of saying they give items the ability to glow in the dark. When you hold your glow-in-the-dark pipe in a direct light source, such as sunlight or under a bright light bulb, the phosphors collect and store energy from the radiance.
The stored energy comes from photons; a form of radiation that chemically stimulates the phosphors into an active state. In this agitated state, the phosphors have trouble holding onto the photons and the energy is released in the glow that you see when you shut off the lights. As the energy seeps from the glass pipe, the glow fades until all the stored energy is expended.
If any of this sounds dangerous, rest assured that the phosphors used in glow-in-the-dark pipes are completely harmless, not to mention thoroughly encased in heat resistant borosilicate glass. Likewise, the radiance from the phosphors is safe enough to regularly be used in even children’s toys.
With glow-in-the-dark pipes, the radiance is most often achieved by pouring phosphor dust into molten borosilicate. This dust, often referred to as “glow powder”, can be created from several types of phosphors to achieve different colors.
When creating glow-in-the-dark pipes, it’s important to consider which colors of glow dust would work best within the borosilicate glass as well as how the phosphors will interact with other types of decoration such as ribboning. While glow-in-the-dark pipes can incorporate other common types of pipe decoration such as fritting, it’s most common to find pipes that rely solely on the novelty of the phosphors for their full effect. Ribboning and other ornamentation can work if applied artfully and with the right sense of timing, but a haphazard concoction of several decorations can be overkill and detract from the aesthetic of the phosphors.
As we’ve mentioned, children’s toys often take advantage of the science of phosphors, but the novelty extends far beyond glow-in-the-dark pipes and toys. Everything from glow-in-the-dark plastic decorative stars to paint to drinking straws to fabrics exists on the market, using different types of phosphors to achieve their distinctive luminescence. However, not all commodities use this type of luminescence to achieve their glowing properties. For example, glow sticks rely on a chemical reaction called chemiluminescence while certain illuminated watches use a non-hazardous radiation called radioluminescence.
If you’re looking for an affordable, unique gift for friends (or, let’s face it, yourself), glow-in-the-dark pipes are an easy score. They’re typically cheap pipes as far as the price tag goes, so they can even be a good idea for a 420-friendly acquaintance. With thousands of phosphors out there, some glow-in-the-dark pipes will feature longer lasting or brighter glows than others. Likewise, different phosphors can result in different colors. Keep this in mind when shopping and you’ll have no trouble finding the perfect glow-in-the-dark to keep you company on smoky nights.