Instructables

Be a Scientist: Learn about Triboluminescence (or, Lightning in your Mouth) *Updated*

Picture of Be a Scientist: Learn about Triboluminescence (or, Lightning in your Mouth) *Updated*
This is my entry into the Science Fair contest. This Instructable might be a bit elementary for some of you, but it is a lot of fun for those who have never tried it. Kids love it. If you like it (or if you don't) please tell me about your experience and please, rate my Instructable! Thank you.

Just a quick note: I was not able to capture photographs or videos of the reaction, so I am using images found on this interesting site. Lewis Kozlosky runs the site and has given me permission to use his photo. Thank you, Lewis!
 
 
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Step 1: The Scoop on Triboluminescence

Below is a bit of history scraped from a few sites.

The word Triboluminescence comes from the Greek word tribein, which means to rub, and the Latin word lumen, which means light. Triboluminescence occurs whenever asymmetrical bonds in a crystal are scratched or rubbed. The light we see is the energy from the friction occurring on the crystal being absorbed by the electrons in the atoms, which is then put off as light. This is the same thing that happens when you see lightning, so triboluminescence is basically extremely small lightning. There are many ways to create triboluminescence, but we will focus on one of the easier and more productive and fun ways.

Triboluminescence was first reported in 1620 by Francis Bacon, who wrote: "It is well known that all sugar, whether candied or plain, if it be hard, will sparkle when broken or scraped in the dark." Sucrose, or sugar, is a crystal. By itself it is possible for triboluminescence to occur, but the sparks will be tiny and only slightly visible.

By adding a certain chemical, C8H8O3, which is 8 parts Carbon, 8 parts Hydrogen, and only 3 parts Oxygen. This chemical has a few names, such as methyl salicylate, but it is generally know by it's more common name, oil of wintergreen. The oil of wintergreen, when mixed with the sugar, will absorb the light put off by the sugar, which then is put off by the electrons as blue light. Blue is a highly visible color in our spectrum, which means that the light generated will be a lot brighter.

Though in the last paragraph I said that the flash was a lot brighter due to the oil of wintergreen, the flash was still too quick and small for me to capture on film or video. Another person who captured the flash had to use ISO 3200 film to capture it. Since I do not have that kind of technology, I was forced to use images off of the web. Another reason my camera might not be picking up the flash is because the light given off is a type my camera doesn't pick up. I like to see any pictures that y'all take.

Well, I'd say that's enough background. Let's get to the fun.
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simpsonizer6 months ago
Now my breath smells very strong of mint lol. Neat that I seen the effect in a handheld mirror in the bathroom, while standing in the shower!
I know it has been a long time since you posted this but just for future reference, put a camera in the dark very close to the reaction and put the camera on extended or long exposure. I will allow you to pick up miniscule amounts of light. Use a tripod though.
dthor726 years ago
This effect can also be done by taking two pieces of quartz and rubbing or striking them together. Best done in very dark situation, such as outside camping or a totally darkened room, also the more adjusted your eyes are to the dark, the better. Stones seem to spark and if the quartz is fairly transparent, the entire stone glows.
lhouse dthor722 years ago
This is also a property of piezoelectrics, one of the reasons electrons jump anywhere...

Sucrose happens to be on the list of peizo materials.
I just tried that and it is awsome!!!!! Mine were slightly whitish and they gave yellow sparks, but you had to kind of strike them kinda hard. Left a weird smell in the air too. kinda like the taste of a 9 volt battery on your tongue mixed with the smell of mineral rich rocks.
gmana dthor725 years ago
can u use any quartz(could u use rose quartz)
dthor72 gmana5 years ago
I don't see why not. I have found that the more transparent the stone is, the effect is better, with the whole stone glowing if it is glassy/transparent to more of a surface "spark" when the stones are milky or whitish. Either way make sure your eyes have gotten adjusted to the dark, this isn't a super bright effect unless you are in total darkness and your night vision is full on.
Isn't that how lighters work? Many of then create sparks with quartz.
Bran (author)  dthor726 years ago
Yes, this was also one I had heard of. I've never been able to find two pieces of quartz (or have been a bit too lazy to try) but I've heard that bits and pieces of quartz fly off, potentially causing a small cut. Isn't wonderful how nature has so many "special" attributes, you know, more than what meets the eye?
You may just have to risk bodily injury to see them XD
owen1023 years ago
does it have that oil in it?
Pizzapie5004 years ago
Would this work with winter green altoids?
Klect9604 years ago
Im confused about this because im kinda dumb but do you just have to chew on a life saver in a dark room and you see sparks

Yarp

acer736 years ago
I read about this in a magazine a while ago. I see that I'm not the only one on instructables who chews his nails.
Bran (author)  acer736 years ago
I've tried to stop. I've tried the patches, the gum.... I just keep doing it, subconsciously.
acer73 Bran6 years ago
There are patches and gum? I never knew about that, unless you mean just to chew normal gum. It angers my dad like crazy but the good thing is that I never have to take the time to cut my nails.
Bran (author)  acer736 years ago
I think it's hilarious (not making fun of you, but a lot of people don't "get" me) when I try to be sarcastic, but people think I'm serious. I meant to compare biting nails to smoking, as if I was "addicted". That would be awesome, however, if there were really patches and gum for chewing nails.
acer73 Bran6 years ago
I knew you were being sarcastic about the patches, but I went for a week or two by chewing gum instead of my nails. Then it got to expensive because I just wanted to chew gum. Biting nails is not even comparable to smoking, I think its because of a vitiamen defficency or somthing, my doctor said somthing about that. If they did make products about nail biting they wouldn't sell because people arn't that concerned about it.
Bran (author)  acer736 years ago
I chew gum and toothpicks. That helps a bit, though I really aren't that concerned about my nails. True, nail biting isn't comparable to smoking, not nearly.
If you really want to stop biting your nails, try dipping your finger tips in vinegar. That helped me, its an old trick my grandmother told me.
acer73 Bran6 years ago
Of course not I'm not really concerned about it, but my mom said if she catches me once more then she will slap me. I won't bite my nails in front of her anymore.
BOOM5601 acer736 years ago
There is this nail polish stuff that is made to help people stop chewing their nails, or sucking their thumb etc. It tastes like shit (literally).
Bran (author)  BOOM56016 years ago
Not to be offensive, but how do you know it tastes just like *fecal matter*? I never use my nails, so I don't bother worrying about biting them.
BOOM5601 Bran6 years ago
I learned the hard way.
I know too. On a boat we rented, the sewage tank exploded while we were emptying it and I got covered.
Worst. Vacation. Ever.
One time me and my mom had to empty our septic tank, and a water pipe exploded somewhere in it, oh god it was like hell at home, and then there the shit was flowing down my lawn, powered by the high pressure pipe shooting out water. I had to get like 10 vaccines, and then we had like biohazard cleaning it up, and we had to stay in a hotel for a while.
That must have been a big mess. But the only time I ever heard of someone getting 12 shots was a buddy in school. They lost his medical records so in 8 or 9th grade they vaccinate you, well no medical records means you need those shots again....all 12 of them.
*shudders*... excuse me... *Pukes*
acer73 BOOM56016 years ago
My I ask how you got crap in your mouth?
BOOM5601 acer736 years ago
Don't ask.
Bran (author)  BOOM56016 years ago
Oh. Wow.
Kiteman acer736 years ago
#1 son used to chew his nails, until we painted them with some really foul/bitter stuff from the local pharmasist. Then he spent a few days with a face like a lemon, now he only chews his nails during exciting films (like Transformers last night!).
acer73 Kiteman6 years ago
It doesn't really concern me that much to get that stuff, but Transformers was awesome.
transformers was awseome...but does that stuff really taste like crap?
I love it when people go completely of subject about the instructables :)
Kiteman6 years ago
For UK readers, one of the better triboluminescent (boy, FireFox does not like that word!) sweets are Trebor Extra Strong Mints - use two pairs of pliers to snap them towards your face.

?? I think there's a bit missing from step three, second paragraph - probably something like ...wait for at least ten minutes until your eyes are fully dark-adapted.

I did this a few years ago. Got a bit confusing when my wife came to bed and found me huddled under the quilt with a pair of pliers...
Thanks - I was wondering where I could find mints that work. The mints in the picture look like polos but they don't work.
Bran (author)  Kiteman6 years ago
Thanks, I guess my brain just kinda lapsed in the middle of that sentence. Nice story about you trying this. Bad part is, I keeping getting an image in my head....
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