Taste the Fresh and See the Glow With Wint-O-Green LifesaversWednesday, November 18th, 2009 by Becca Droz
Denture Danger: 9 (if you aren’t just using it as a breath mint)
Wint-O-Green Lifesavers are more than just a sweet wintergreen taste-bud-tingler, and they are more than just a breath mint, this candy is a science lesson.
If you take these lifesavers into a pitch-black room (a bathroom usually works the best) you can watch science in action. I find it works best with a friend because then you can share the feeling of amazement, but it also works if you are by yourself and look in the mirror.
In the darkened room chew the lifesaver with your mouth open and if you get the right crunch your friend will see sparks of blue light making your mouth glow.
The reason you see these sparks is because of an effect called triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is emission of light as a result of something being crushed or torn, in this case, crystalline sugars. When the candy is crushed electrons are released and these electrons collide with nitrogen molecules in the air, which causes a vibration that results in an ultraviolet spark.
The ultraviolet light that is produced is mostly non-visible, but a small amount is visible which is why sometimes other sugar candies create faint sparks when you bite into them.
The Wint-O-Green lifesaver creates a bright flash because the flavoring, methyl salicylate (a.k.a. wintergreen oil), is florescent. We don’t have to go into wavelengths and all that, but basically the wintergreen oil absorbs the ultraviolet (invisible) light and takes it over, emitting sparks of visible blue light. Crazy, isn’t it? So, before you plop one of these minty sweet lifesavers into your mouth just for the mere taste, share one with a friend, turn off the lights, and show them the magic of science.