The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking Exploratorium
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activity: Lightning in Your Mouth

Crunching on a wintergreen LifeSaver® makes a miniature lightning storm in your mouth.

 

 

What Do I Need? .
a mirror  
a dark room
  a roll of wintergreen-flavored LifeSavers®
 
What Do I Do?

 

Go into the dark room and wait until your eyes adjust to the dark. Bite down on a wintergreen candy while looking in the mirror. (This is one of the few times you should chew with your mouth open.) In the mirror, you should see the candy sparking and glittering as you chew.


 
What’s Going On? .

When you crunch on wintergreen candies, you are making light with friction. The scientific name for this process is triboluminescence, from the Greek word tribein, which means “to rub,” and the Latin word lumin, which means “light.”

When you crush sugar crystals, the stress in the crystal creates electric fields. Like the electric fields in a lightning storm, these electric fields can rip the outer electrons from molecules. When the molecules recombine with their electrons, they emit light. In addition to blue and violet light, the crunched crystals produce ultraviolet light, which you can’t see. Wintergreen oil converts ultraviolet light into visible blue light, making the light you can see brighter.

 

 
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