MadSci Network: Edible/Inedible Experiments Archive

Chewing Light

Area of Science: Chemistry
Meant for at least Grade K-3 (age 5-7).
This experiment is edible.
An adult need not be present.

Mechanical generation of light (by chewing)

Wintergreen Lifesaver candy (no other flavor will work).

To prevent accidental choking on the candy pieces, have a glass of water handy to drink.

How to do the experiment:
Triboluminescence is the mechanical generation of light. Certain chemical bonds will generate light energy when the molecules are torn apart by mechanical crushing. Wintergreen Lifesaver candies contain some of these bonds. No other flavor of lifesaver candy (such as peppermint) will work in this experiment.

1. Find a room with a mirror, that can be made very dark. Most bathrooms are good for this experiment.

2. Fill a glass of water to drink in case you choke on the candy.

3. Wait about 15-20 minutes in the darkened room until you can see your teeth in the mirror. Make certain your eyes have adjusted to the dark environment.

4. With your lips open so that you can see your teeth, chew a single lifesaver candy while watching your mouth in the mirror.

Each time a part of a Lifesaver is chrushed by your teeth you will see one or more flashes of white light in your mouth! Each piece of candy can produce many flashes of light as it is chewed and crushed.

You are generating light energy by triboluminescence because each time you chew the candy your teeth are tearing apart the chemical bonds that where formed when the liquid candy was molded into a solid lifesaver. Wintergreen contains molecules that exhibit triboluminescnece.

Automotive scientists are studing triboluminescent flashes as a way to sense automobile crashes so that the air bags can be inflated. Imagine having your life saved by a Lifesaver candy!

Useful References:

Further comments:

Experiment submitted on Wed Apr 2 18:58:45 1997 by:
Name: Adrian Popa
Institution: Hughes Research Labs
Position: Research Manager

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