Activities > Science Experiments > Light Up Lifesavers
Activities > Science Experiments > Light Up Lifesavers

Light Up Lifesavers

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:

- some Wint-O-Green Life Savers (be sure they're not sugarless)
- a mirror
- a pair of pliers (to be used if you're not allowed to bite hard candy)

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.