Stand Back! I’m Going to Try Science! Part 2: Sparks in Your Mouth!

Concept:

Here at Enable Education, we love STEM learning and we love candy.  This evidenced by the chocolate stains on our lab-coats and the jelly-bean residue on our calculators.  In a perfect marriage of the two, we decided to write about an experiment from the depths of the school yard rumor mill: if you chomp down on a Wintergreen flavoured Lifesaver candy, you will see little blue sparks in your mouth.

For This Experiment, You Will Need:

Wintergreen flavoured Lifesavers candy

A dark room with a mirror

At least two teeth that line up

The Experiment:

This one is easy.  Grab a pack of Wintergreen Life Savers, go the bathroom, turn off the lights, look in the mirror and chew like crazy.  Tiny blue sparks will appear in your mouth as you chomp on the candy.

“Fear me mortals, for I am the Thunderer!”

What Did We Observe?

Short Answer: Lighting! In my face hole!

Slightly Longer Answer: Triboluminescence

Scientific Answer: Three things happen to make this dazzling oral light show.  First, your teeth crush up the crystalized sugar in the candy, releasing negatively-charged electrons.  This means that the atoms that previously held them are now positively charged, causing the free electrons to jump around to find a new atom to cling to.

Who knew particle physics would be so shiny?

Meanwhile, nitrogen molecules from the air attach themselves to the rough surface of the candy, when the free electrons, attempting to even out the charge of the atoms, come into contact with the nitrogen. This causes a burst of UV radiation, which gets absorbed by the wintergreen flavoring (methyl salicylate), and emits a bright blue flash.  Sadly science has not yet found a use for this alternative form of energy.

Andrew Baxter is a Secondary School Teacher and Curriculum Specialist with Enable Education.  He likes to read by the triboluminescent light of Lifesavers being ground up in a sausage maker.


Experiments 3 Science for Everyone 6

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