Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Livesaver Lights

Can you make Lifesavers flash in the dark?

Breaking Lifesavers makes flashes of light

What you need:
  • A dark room with a mirror
  • Wintergreen Lifesavers
What to do:
  1. Stand in the dark room facing the mirror.  (If you don't have a mirror, get a partner and watch each other.)
  2. Chew a Lifesaver with your mouth open.
  3. Look for flashes of light.
What's happening:
When you crunch the candy, electrons get ripped off of the sugar molecules. When they recombine with the sugar molecules, these electrons emit light.  The wintergreen oil used for flavoring makes the light more visible.*  

*For more information, see "Lightning In Your Mouth" on the Exploratorium website.  You can also find a complete explanation of this reaction in Sweeting, Linda M, "Light Your Candy,"  Chem Matters, Oct 1990, pp 10-12.

14 comments:

  1. My mom likes to tell a story of doing this when she was dating my dad. By in those days 'parking' to make out was called "sparking". My mom asked if he wanted to go "sparking". Of course he was interested! They kept driving until it was "dark enough". Then she pulled out the lifesavers! He was disappointed, but they did go "sparking"!

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  2. What a great story, thanks for sharing.

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  3. It sounds to me like he ended up on the sweet end of the dating deal anyway in the end :)

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  4. it helps to let your eyes adjust to the dark for a few minutes first, also crushing it with the pliers was a much more dramatic effect!

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  5. That's true. In fact, the version of the experiment online at Highlights does recommend pliers. They also put their Lifesavers in a plastic sandwich bag, which would reduce crumbs.

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  6. This use to work 20 years ago....I tried this just the other day and no luck!! Are they made different now?

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    Replies
    1. You have to find the wintergreen flavor that has the whole in the middle filled in. It's whats in the middle that makes it happen. I usually find them in the rolls but I haven't seen the rolls around forever.

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    2. They didn't have the ones with the hole filled in when I tried this in 1976, but it worked back then. You don't need the kind with the hole filled in.

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  7. The last time I tried this with Lifesavers, it still worked. Make sure you're using wintergreen Lifesavers, because the wintergreen oil is what makes the visible flashes, and make sure that the Lifesavers are the normal kind with sugar, not sugar-free.

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  8. every summer at my summer camp we would walk in to the forest tell ghost stories and then do "spark in the dark". One of my favorite memories of my childhood, But the key is to have a very dry mouth. We would sit and suck in and out without moving your tongue and then add the mint and bite down, that gets the biggest sparks.

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  9. Thanks for sharing. Some people have more luck doing this experiment than others--maybe a dry mouth is the key!

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  10. Dry mouth is key! Breathe in and out for 5 or 6 breaths and then start chomping on the Lifesaver. Don't worry about chewing with your mouth open. :)

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  11. what would be the best question and hypothesis for this.

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  12. Maima, several people have left comments on this page about what works and what doesn't. Why don't you test some of these? Do you get more sparks with a dry mouth? Do you get more sparks from a certain kind of wintergreen mint? Does the candy have to have the filled-in middle? Formulate your own question and hypothesis, and let me know how it goes!

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