A Real Lifesaver


    Kids, did you have any idea that crushing certain lifesavers in your mouth can set off sparks? This experiment will demonstrate how light can be given off by a simple chemical reaction. All you need is a roll of wintergreen mint Life Savers® with the green-speckled centers, a very dark room, and a partner.

    Please note:  All chemicals and experiments can entail an element of risk, and no experiments should be performed without proper adult supervision.

    With your partner in a dark room, crunch the mint with your teeth with your mouth open. Your partner should see sparks of light generated when you bite on the candy. Reverse the roles so that you can see the sparks in your partner's mouth. If your partner is an adult, have them hit the candy with a hammer on a hard surface to observe the same quality of sparks.

    What is going on here? When the candy is crushed, the friction of unlike charges (positive and negative, or + and -) causes loose particles called electrons to start a series of interactions between the nitrogen in the air, sugar, and candy molecules. This type of light is called triboluminescence.


    Kathleen Carrado Gregar, PhD, Argonne National Labs 
    [email protected]
    October 1995


    Reference: Wacky Science: A Cookbook for Elementary Teachers by Phil Parratore,1994, Kendall-Hall Publishing Co., Iowa, page 77.