Complete with the Glowing Pickle

Well now that I have your attention. I am going to tell you a little bit about the chemistry of the the fire works or burner on an electric stove or a store sign you see before I let you see the glowing pickle. Please don't get scared off- I'm not going to throw a lot of hard to understand science terms at you, but if you want to go into this a little more in depth change to my scary science pickle page . It's actually not scary, but some people may think so - I just get into the science a little more than you may care to. You may find that after you have taken a peak at the rest of this page you may want to learn a little more so try out that page.

Everything in the world is made up of atoms - including us. Atoms are the tiniest parts of matter that cannot be divided without losing their special characteristics. Each element has its own form of atom - so oxygen has different atoms than helium does and those are both different from gold atoms.

Atoms connect or bond together into molecules. A molecule can be a new substance, or it can be a common form of an element. For example, oxygen atoms and hydrogen atoms bond together to form water molecules. Or sodium atoms and chlorine atoms bond to make sodium chloride, known as table salt.

Atoms are made up of even smaller parts called electrons, protons, and neutrons. The electrons are negative particles, the protons are positive particles, and you guessed it neutrons are neutral particles. The protons and neutrons are in the center of the atom, and the electrons move around the protons and neutrons - almost like the planets go around the sun. I have found a great book that I like that explains this a little more and give you a better feel for how small an atom is. Please check it out, it is The Incredible Journey to the Center of the Atom or if you read the book backwards it called The Incredible Journey to the edge of the Universe. The book is put out by Barnes and Noble. The book is even easy for a child to read - my niece and nephew read it with me when they were in the 1st and 3rd grade.

Properties of atoms and molecules do not follow the same laws that work well for larger objects. Scientists have observed that electrically charges particles (almost like the static electricity you get when you run your feet on the rug) moving in paths give off energy. This energy, electromagnetic radiation, can be in the form of light, X-rays, or radio waves. Electromagnetic radiation travels in waves, almost like waves in the ocean. All waves can be described by their wavelength, amplitude, frequency, and speed. Take a look at this picture as I explain each one

The wavelength of a wave is the distance between successive peaks of the wave. The electromagnetic radiation you can see, visible light, has wavelengths ranging from 0.0000004 meters to 0.000000750 meters.

Amplitude is the height of the wave measured from the origin of the wave to its peaks. The brightness of light depends on the amplitude of the light wave.

Frequency of a wave tell how fast the wave moves up and down. The frequency of light is measures by the number of times a light wave completes a cycle of upward and downward motion in one second.

The speed of a light wave, regardless of its wavelength, moves through space at a constant speed,
3.0 x 108 meters per second, which is called the speed of light.

When energy is added to electrons in an atom they give off visible light (in waves). Since each atom of an element is different from element to element, the color of light that the electrons in that atom emit are different colors. Looking below you can see three different flames. What is happening in each picture is that the salt of an element (like NaCl is the salt of Na) is put into the flame where the electrons are excited and emit light in various colors.

Potassium Sodium Lithium

Flame Flame Flame


Since there is sodium in a pickle, in the form of table salt (NaCl), we can make a pickle glow just as the flames are in the above pictures. This is also how fireworks get their colors - there are different salt that when the atoms are excited they emitted different colors. So when you see a green fireworks the element giving that green color is copper (Cu). When you see a pink color that could be lithium (Li). Below is a brief list of salts that I have gotten nice flame tests out of.

Soduim Chloride (NaCl) yellow / orange
Copper(II) Chloride (CuCl2) green
Lithium Chloride (LiCl) fushia
Calcium Chloride (CaCl2) orange
Strontium Chloride (SrCl2) red
Barium Chloride (BaCl2) yellow / green

Ok what does all this have to do with a glowing pickle??? Well what is in a pickle? Salt - NaCl. So if you add energy to the sodium atoms in the pickle, the pickle will glow. Now the time you have been waiting for - to see the glowing pickle.

My little movie is a Quicktime movie and is about 1Meg. Watch my glowing pickle movie. What you will see is actual video that I took. The video has not been altered except to put in the credits. If you are interested in trying this experiment yourself, take a look at the instructions page.

Guess what....I was contacted by a media company from New York asking if I would be interested in being taped for a series on cable TV. Of course I said yes -so they came to my school and taped me and some of my students for almost 5 hours (May 1999). My glowing TV appearance was in TV Food Network at the end of July 1999.

If you enjoyed this page or would like to learn more about this subject or more chemistry I suggest a science section in a bookstore or your library. There is another book that I found that I enjoy, that you might like - its called The Handy Science Answer Book and it is put out my Visible Ink. Please let me know what you thought of my Chemistry Page. I hope you enjoyed the glowing pickle. I would appreciate any comments or questions.

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Copyright 2009