Have you ever wondered what electric lighters and Wint-o-green Lifesavers have in common? No? Well we here at AstroCamp wondered exactly that and the answer is a surprising one: they both involve energy released from crystals!
Electric lighters like this piezo ignitor don’t use the normal flint and steel ignition method of a normal lighter, and they don’t have a gas reservoir. Instead, they use a spark produced from a piezoelectric crystal (a crystal that releases a small electric charge when compressed, warped, or otherwise physically manipulated) to light a stream of gas coming from a stovetop or grill. When you press the button, a hammer strikes the crystal, releasing an electric charge that travels along the lighter until it lights the gas.
However, a different process is happening within the mints: triboluminescence. When you bite into the Lifesaver, you break apart the sugar crystals, which release small amounts of ultraviolet light. Ordinarily, this would be unobservable, as our eyes can’t see UV light, but the wintergreen oil inside the mints fluoresces under UV light. As a result, whenever one of those small pops of UV light are released, the oil absorbs that light and re-emits it in the form of visible light. It may look like sparks are being released, but unlike the piezoelectric ignitor, no electricity is being produced.
The ides of energy released from crystals may seem like something out of science fiction, but grab some mints and see how real it is.