Friday, May 29, 2009

crunch crunch, spark!

I had a dream about this last night, so I thought I'd blog real quick about the phenomena that causes wintergreen mints to spark. I had first done this while camping with my 3rd grade class. We were out in the middle of the woods, when the instructors gave us the candy, and exclaimed to chew with our mouths open and watch our friends. It was pretty amazing back then, and since I have tried to recreate the same effect for my sister, but to no avail. I thought that they had removed what was causing it to spark, but that's not really true. There isn't a particular chemical that's bad for our health, causing it to spark up.
There are 3 things that cause the life saver to spark: sugar, nitrogen, and flavoring. What happens is that when you bight into the candy, you cause sugar molecules to split, releasing positively charged particles across your mouth. When I researched this, I read positively charged electrons, which is all wrong. From what I remember in chem 110, positively charged particles are protons. Electrons are negatively charged. Anyways, the protons interact with nitrogen in your mouth, causing a flash of light invisible to the human eye. This flash of light interacts with the flavoring of the candy, emitting light at a wavelength visible to the human eye. And viola, you have your spark.
For me this experiment never worked when I tried to show my sister. So I have some ideas to help this work for you. Make sure the pack of mints are fresh, for example the ones you get out of the plastic wrappers. If you use an old pack, it could have absorbed some moisture, which takes away from it's ability to emit the light. Secondly make sure you are in a very dark room and have given your eyes time to adjust. Thirdly, you can try grinding your teeth more than biting. Just think about how many protons you'll release by grinding everything to smithereens. ;)

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