Suslick Breaks Sugar With Sound to Get Light

Photograph of the mechano- luminescence of N-acetyl- anthranilic acid crystals in the shape of the UI emblem crushed between two transparent windows.
Photograph of the mechano- luminescence of N-acetyl- anthranilic acid crystals in the shape of the UI emblem crushed between two transparent windows.

Many of us know that if you bite or break a Wint-O-Green Lifesaver® in the dark, you will see a spark of green light. That light is called mechanoluminescence, also known as triboluminescence. This fascinating phenomenon was first discovered by Sir Francis Bacon in 1605 who observed light emission when scraping a lump of sugar with a knife. Typically, mechanoluminescence is generated by simply grinding, cleaving, biting, or scratching a material, and this process produces a very dim light. As reported in the November 9th issue of Nature, Professor Kenneth S. Suslick and graduate student Nathan C. Eddingsaas have used high-intensity ultrasound in liquid slurries of sugar and other organic crystals to create mechanoluminescence up to a 1,000 times more intense than from grinding. The light is generated from a static electric discharge created when a crystal, like sugar, is fractured. The mechanoluminescence is much the same as lightning during a thunderstorm.

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