Why does sugar shoot sparks?

We've all heard about getting sparks from a lifesaver, especially a wintergreen one, but in reality you don't need a brand name to make sparks. All you need is a lump of sugar and the willingness to subject it to an untimely death. Find out how and why to get sparks from sweetness.

The bakers on this site will have noticed something unpleasant happens at the bottom of a bag of sugar. The months of pressure from the sugar above, the heat from the kitchen, and any water that might have soaked in from a newly-cleaned kitchen counter have reduced the bottom of the bag to lumps of unpleasant-looking sugar. A slightly more advanced process of this goes into make sugar candy. Both are crystallized sugar, sitting there, waiting to be turned into something really cool, like a brownie, or perhaps a shower of blue-green sparks.

For the first you'll have to have some eggs and flour and cocoa powder. For the other, all you'll need is pliers and absolute darkness. Block out any, and I mean any, light to the room. Get the sugar cube, sugar lump, or lifesaver in the pliers, and crush that little bugger. It won't happen every time, but you should see some blue-green flashes from the dying cube.

That might be a distress signal, asking other sugar-laden treats to attack you in your sleep, but more likely it's just physics. A sugar cube is a crystal structure, and the atoms of that crystal structure are lined up so that they form a regular grid of positive and negative charges. When the cube is split, sometimes these grids are broken up so there are more negative charges - electrons - on one side than the other. Since positive attracts negative, as the lump splits apart the positive side pulls the electrons to it in a stream that shows up as a spark in the air.

These sparks are tough to capture, since they're very small, and very short-lived. Most videos of this are just black screens with the sound of people eating. If you'd like to see them, enjoy this close-up video of the mouth of someone eating candy deliberately messily.

Top Image: Uwe Hermann

Via Naked Scientists.