Spitting Fire… How to Create Your Own Mouth Lightning

On more occasions than I’d like to remember, my mom used to spit fire. Somehow, coincidentally, I’m sure, that only seemed to happen when I got myself into trouble. Nowadays, “spitting fire” has a slightly different meaning.

The nature of fire-spitting we’re going to explore today would actually pair exceptionally well with freestyle rapping if we could figure out a way to amp up the visible light energy for improved viewing pleasure.

Ever heard that legend about Wint O Green Life Savers candy? If you chomp down on that particular flavor, it results in a bit of blue/green mouth lightning. Yes, for real. Some “wives’ tales” are, in fact, true.

Here’s the deal.

It’s all about triboluminescence—the process of a substance emitting visible or invisible light when smashed, crunched or torn. Other substances exhibit vaguely similar phenomena like piezoluminescence (emitting light when deformed) or mechanoluminescence (light is emitted on exposure to a mechanical force.)

The process of triboluminescence looks something like this. Crushing these crystalline sugars knocks some electrons out of their orbit, which then proceed to smash into nitrogen molecules in the air. As a side note, the air we breathe while munching breath mints is about 78 percent nitrogen. So, each munched electron will encounter 78 nitrogen molecules for every 21 oxygen ones. That creates a probable forecast of mouth lightning strikes. The resulting collision imparts extra energy to the nitrogen molecule. Wanting to shed this electron buzz, the nitrogen molecule emits light to return to its normal “hanging out in the air” state. If enough of this chomping and colliding happens, we see light.

Many hard, sugary candies exhibit triboluminescence. It just so happens that the light output is weak and sometimes outside of the visible spectrum, depending on the nature of the sugars, so you have to work at seeing your molar power generation results. Hmm, will “molar power” catch on?

In the case of Wint O Green Life Savers, the flavor itself makes the difference. Wintergreen flavor is derived from oil of wintergreen, or as we all know, methyl salicylate. This particular substance not only produces the triboluminescence effect; its very nature is fluorescent—it absorbs light of shorter wavelength and emits light of longer wavelength, more of which is visible to the human eyeball. In the case of Wint O Green, we see greenish-blueish light. Cool.

So, next time you’re challenged to a freestyle rap battle, stuff your mouth full of Wint O Green Life Savers and get ready to spit some fire.

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