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Why do some candies (like wintergreen lifesavers) spark when chewed?
Question Date: 2010-05-23
Answer 1:

The phenomena is described as . To break that work down: "tribo" meaning rub (friction, pressure); "luminescence" meaning to emit light at low temperatures. The thought is that there are three processes happening. First, your teeth are breaking sugar crystals in the candy. This releases negatively charged electrons, leaving positively charged atoms behind. Secondly, nitrogen molecules (N2) from the air become attached to the broken sugar crystal surfaces. When the electrons hit the nitrogen molecules, the nitrogen molecules emit invisible UV (ultraviolet) radiation. Thirdly, the UV radiation is absorbed by the wintergreen flavoring molecule - methyl salicylate. This molecule then reemits blue light, which is what you see.

Thanks for your great question! Don't get any cavities while conducting any experiments!

Answer 2:

The wintergreen lifesavers spark because of a phenomenon that has several names according to the specific conditions in which it is expressed; triboluminescence, mechanoluminescence and fractoluminescence. Luminescence means light emission, then triboluminescence means light emission from rubbing; mechanoluminescence means light emission from mechanical action; and fractoluminescence is light emission from fracture.

The phenomenon of luminescence usually occurs if you supply a lot of energy to atoms, for example by heating them in a flame or by passing electricity through them; they emit light of a color that is characteristic of the kind of atom. If the spectrum of the light is examined to determine the colors that comprise the light, it is found to consist of sharp lines, i.e. very specific colors.

The wintergreen lifesavers are made of methyl salicylate. This substance emits light above 380 nanometers wave length when it is under mechanical action/fracture. This light is visible for the human eye and we can see it when the wintergreen lifesavers are chewed.

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