Video: You may have heard the myth that biting into a Wint-O-Green Lifesavers produces visible sparks in a dark room. It’s hard to believe that a small lolly can produce its own lightning, but this incredible high-speed video by Smarter Every Day reveals it’s just simple science at work.
When you bite into, or crush, a lolly made of real sugar (not an artificial sweetener) the atoms in the crystalline sugar molecules lose electrons that end up colliding with nitrogen molecules in the air we breathe. The nitrogen absorbs energy from those electrons, some of which is then re-emitted as light — an effect called triboluminescence.
Normally, the light that’s emitted is mostly ultraviolet, which the human eye can’t see. But wintergreen flavouring, Methyl salicylate, is fluorescent, which means it absorbs the ultraviolet light emitted by the nitrogen molecules and then re-emits it as light in the visible spectrum. That’s why the sparks produced by biting into a Wint-O-Green Lifesavers lolly is a bright, blue colour you can easily see, even without a high-speed camera.