Introduction: 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!
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.
Step 2: Materials Needed
For this experiment, if you will, you need:
A couple WintOGreen LifeSavers - Price: A couple bucks or so for a bag. Note: We need the sugar variety, not the sugar free. The sugar free type uses aspartame, which doesn't spark.
A set of good teeth.
A mirror or a friend.
A hammer or channel locks - this is the other method.
If you don't think you can chew the LifeSavers due to your teeth, use the hammer or pliers instead.
Step 3: How to Create Triboluminescence
First, I'll offer this warning - If you have bad teeth (loose ones, rotten ones, cavities, fillings, caps, etc.) try not to chew on those teeth. Don't worry - there's another way that works just as good.
Before you use any of these methods, however, you need a bit of preparation. You should go into the dark (I used my bathroom, any dark place will work, however) and wait for around 10 minutes, though I have seen the sparks instantaneously, without my eyes getting adjusted, though I try to avoid staring at bright lights, also.
The first method, which by far is my favorite, is: Take a WintOGreen LifeSaver out of the package. Feel free to break it into small pieces if you wish, I do because they are easier to chew. Pop it in your mouth and chew. Watch as your mouth sparks and lights up!
Another way, which is possibly a bit dangerous for you and bystanders, is to find a good solid surface (such as concrete) and hit the LifeSaver with a hammer. It works on the same principle, but you have to be careful about the shrapnel. If you want to use a pliers, it should be pretty straight-forward. Just place the LifeSaver in between the two "pinchers" and squeeze.
Step 4: If I Won a Prize in the Science Fair Contest....
- Buy a micrometer. I've been wanting one for a while now.
- Buy some LEDs or capacitors for my electronics projects that are on hold currently.
- Put it together with some of my own hard-earned money to buy an MP3 player.
- Buy a birthday present for my nephews and niece.
- Give it to my parents - they need it more than I do.
Good luck to all others who have taken the time to write about their passions and hope y'all win.