Jewish World Review July 23, 2003 / 23 Tamuz, 5763

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports


The sweet science of Life Savers' sparks; how do Pop Rocks work? ripping newspaper


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: Go in a completely dark bathroom and stand in front of a mirror. With your lips open, bite on a Wintergreen flavor Life Saver. You will see sparks in your mouth. Why? - Linda Greene

A: Excellent question. But first we must mention that the correct name for the legendarily sparky Life Saver flavor is Wint-O-Green. And Ms. Greene, we also have to wonder if you've ever gone by the nickname "Wint-O."

Wint-O-Greens spark because of an effect called triboluminescence - the creation of light by friction. This was first studied not with Life Savers, but with Bacon - Sir Francis Bacon, about 400 years ago. (Nobody was biting on him or anything, he was just smackin' stuff together.)

When you crush sugar crystals, they tend to split along planes with positive charges on one side and negative on the other. As the pieces of candy move apart, the charges want to get back together, so they jump across the air like tiny lightning bolts.

Normally, when you crush sugar, these small sparks excite nitrogen molecules in the air, which subsequently emit mostly ultraviolet light. We can see only a small amount of this light, emitted as a faint bluish glow. Most candies should be capable of this, though it is really hard to see.

But there is something special in Wint-O-Green Life Savers that makes the light much brighter. It's called methyl salicylate, and it's the ingredient that provides the wintergreen flavor. Methyl salicylate absorbs the ultraviolet light given off by the nitrogen and re-emits it as visible light.

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SO HOW DO POP ROCKS WORK?

We were hoping you'd ask about Pop Rocks, the crackling candy oddities that sizzle around on your tongue.

Regular hard candy is made from sugar, corn syrup, water and flavoring.

Candy makers heat the ingredients and boil the mixture to drive off all of the water. Then they heat the pure sugar syrup to about 300 degrees. When it cools, they have hard candy.

To make Pop Rocks, the hot sugar mixture is allowed to mix with carbon dioxide gas, which makes tiny bubbles in the candy. When it cools the candy shatters, but the pieces still contain the high-pressure bubbles. When you put the candy in your mouth, it melts and releases the bubbles with a POP!

What you feel and hear is the carbon dioxide gas being released from each bubble.

Sources: Towson University, Chemmatters, "Light Your Candy," Ohio Wesleyan University, Howstuffworks.Com

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WHY IT'S SO EASY TO RIP OUR COLUMN

Q: O Wise One, how come newspaper tears easier down than across? And who wrote the Book of Love? - Eggman

A: Eggman, the folks at Bowater Inc., a major newsprint manufacturer that might have made the paper readers are now holding in their hands, explained it to us.

Newsprint is made up of many tiny wood fibers. The paper-making process lines the fibers up mostly in one direction. This forms a "grain" in the paper. The paper tears easily when you are tearing with the grain, or between the majority of the fibers. It tears raggedly against the grain or across most of the fibers.

On your other query, I'd have to say that among all the collaborators, Shakespeare and Smoky Robinson deserve co-authorship of the Book of Love.

From "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" to "My smile is my makeup I wear since my breakup with you," I think they covered the subject best.

But there's always The Troggs' "Wild thing, I think you move me."

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QUICK QUIZ

And now a quiz on colleges:

1. In what state are Eckerd College, Rollins College and St. Thomas University?

2. Which service academy can count two U.S. presidents as alumni?

3. Which of the following is not an Ivy League school: University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Cornell or Brown?

4. Harvard is the nation's oldest college. What's the second-oldest?

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ANSWERS

1. Florida

2. West Point - the presidents are Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower

3. Stanford

4. The College of William and Mary



Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment by clicking here.

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