Wintergreen-flavored hard candy, such as Life Savers Wint-O-Green flavor. Make sure not to buy the sugar-free variety or it won’t work!
Mirror or a friend
Dark room or closet
What You Do:
Have your child take a roll of the candy into a dark room or closet with her. She can take a friend instead of a mirror if she is doing the experiment with a partner. Tell her to sit a few minutes in the dark room until her eyes adjust to the darkness.
After a few minutes, she can start crunching on a piece of candy with her teeth. Tell her this is one time she’s allowed to chew with her mouth open! Have her hold the mirror up to her mouth (or have her friend look at her mouth). She should be able to see the candy making glittery blue and white sparks in her mouth as she chews! She may even see sparks making her cheeks light up if her mouth is closed.
Review the science of this event with your child. It may have looked like lightning in her mouth, and in fact, it is like miniature lightning! When her teeth crunch sugar crystals, the crystals become charged with electricity. The electricity mixes with nitrogen molecules in the air to create light. Lightning in the sky also happens when electricity meets nitrogen molecules.
If it was just sugar candy without the wintergreen flavoring, the experiment wouldn’t work because the light released would be ultraviolet light, invisible to the human eye. Wintergreen oil absorbs the ultraviolet energy so that the light is visible!
Your child can also learn a new vocabulary word from this experiment: triboluminescence. This is the scientific word for making light from friction.
Your child may want to take a picture of the experiment in action so she’ll remember the cool light sparks in the dark!
Beth Levin has an M.A. in Curriculum and Education from Columbia University Teachers College. She has written educational activities for Macmillan/McGraw-Hill and Renaissance Learning publishers. She has a substitute teaching credential for grades K-12 in Oregon, where she lives with her husband and two daughters.