why do wint o green lifesavers spark in the dark

Turn up your sound and click on the VIDEO above to see a lifesaver sparking away. ItБs a hot night in the Adirondack mountains, crickets are playing their evening sonata and IБm watching cool-blue sparks in the dark. Four tweens in their bunk beds have now independently confirmed what two minutes ago was just a rumor to us: Wint-O-Green Life Savers spark in the dark. And itБs awesome. So what causes the cool light show? When you crunch down on a candy, you shatter
its sugar crystals. (Chemists define a solid crystal as a substance where each unit of matter repeats with a regular pattern. Think: or diamond) Scientists believe that the structure of a crystal determines whether or not it will emit light when broken, a phenomenon dubbed triboluminescence. Crystals in which every unit is symmetrically arranged around a center point donБt tend to have this feature.


But crystals that donБt have this symmetry or are impure often do. This second class includes sugar. When you break a sugar crystal, one half of the crystal ends up with more electrons than the other. The electrons leap across the gap to the more positively charged side. БThere is a little bolt of lightning that shoots between the faces,Б says Arnold Rheingold, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego who has studied triboluminescence. (Recent suggests that the sparksБ energy is powerful enough to trigger chemical reactions such as combustion. ) In your mouth, these jumping electrons crash into nitrogen atoms, which is abundant in the air. The nitrogen briefly absorbs the energy from the collision and then spits out some energy Б in the form of ultraviolet light. So far, all of this could happen with many hard, sugary candies.


But we humans canБt see ultraviolet light. What bumps certain sweet suckers into the world of blue, visible lightning is their flavoring. Wintergreen oil (or, in the case of the ones I just tried staring into the bathroom mirror in the dark, Бartificial flavorБ) will absorb the energy from the ultraviolet light and then. So next time youБre focused on freshening your breath with a wintergreen treat, find a dark space and a mirror and let the lightning fly. Here s a science lesson with some real bite to it! Shoot lightning sparks from your mouth by chomping on some Wint-O-Green Life Savers. Here s how What you ll need: What to do: 1. You can watch the sparks fly by looking at yourself in a mirror, or you can take turns making them with a friend. But before you do, go into a dark room or closet and wait five or ten minutes so that your eyes can adjust to the darkness.


This will enable you to see sparks more easily. 2. Hold a Wint-O-Green Life Saver between your teeth and watch as you bite it. If you can t bite hard candies, crush it with a set of pliers. What happens: Sparks of blue-green light leap out from wherever your teeth crack the candy! Why this happens: Believe it or not, what you ve seen is a really miniaturized version of lightning! Lightning is a stream of electricity that excites nitrogen molecules in the air. Electricity provides excited nitrogen molecules with extra energy, which the nitrogen molecules then release as visible light. When you crush sugar crystals with your teeth, the pieces become positively and negatively charged. This makes the electricity jump through the air between the pieces of sugar, exciting nitrogen molecules and making them emit light.


Chemical energy is stored in all kinds of molecules. With sugar crystals and other substances, this energy can be converted to light energy by using pressure. When sugar crystals are squeezed, pressed, or crushed, they give off electricity called piezo-electricity (piezo means pressure). Sugar alone won t give you the cool effect that Wint-O-Green Life Savers do, however! That s because a lot of the energy that gets released from plain old crushed sugar gets released as ultraviolet light, which the human eye can t see. But the wintergreen in Wint-O-Green Life Savers is a very special substance that absorbs this ultraviolet energy and transforms it into visible light. This process is called fluorescence. And you won t find it if you re a calorie-conscious candy consumer this trick works only with real sugar, not sugar-free substitutes.

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