5D30.30 Glowing Pickle
Atomic excitation and emission
The variac is connected to the pickle and a large voltage is applied. The pickle begins to sizzle and steam. After a short time, the pickle glows.
-  Pickle
-  Plate
-  Copper wire
-  Power cord with 2 alligator clips
-  Variac
- (Optional) Handheld spectroscopes
- (Optional) Camera
- Place a pickle on the plate.
- Wrap one wire around the pickle. Spear the other wire through the middle of the pickle.
- Attach the alligator clips to each fork.
- Plug the power cord with alligator clips into the variac.
- The voltage used in this demonstration is potentially lethal! Perform this demonstration with extreme caution!
- The pickle glows at one electrode only.
- This demonstration smells strongly. Do not allow the pickle to glow for a long period of time in a small lecture room.
- The light from the pickle can be seen in large lecture halls, but not the details of the setup unless there is a camera. Camera recommended.
- Plug in the variac.
- Turn on the variac.
- Increase the variac voltage to about 120 V.
- Hold your microphone near the pickle (taking extreme care not to touch it!) to demonstrate that the pickle is sizzling.
- Wait for the pickle to glow. Let it glow for a few moments before turning off the variac.
- (Optional) The sodium D line can be seen fairly clearly using a handheld spectroscope. Spectroscopes can be distributed in a small class.
- PIRA 5D30.30 (also 5F15.20 and 7B10.10)
- Video Encyclopedia 18-15
- J.R. Appling, et al, "Sodium D Line Emission from Pickles," J. Chem. Ed. 70, 250, (1993) - shows a comparison of the spectrum from a pickle with the sodium spectrum, no lines other than the D lines were observed.
- P.M. Weimer and R. Battino, "The Incredible 'Glowing' Pickle and Onion and Potato and...", J. Chem. Ed. 73, 456-457, (1996) - i) made a hole slightly larger than the electrode at one end, this end invariably glowed; ii) suggests cutting pickle in half and looking at discharges in gaps around seeds; iii) other veggies marinated in a 15% brine solution.
- P. Scharlin et al, "Glowing Veggies," J. Chem. Ed. 73, 457-459, (1996)
- Penn and Teller mention "The Incredibly Dangerous Glowing Pickle Machine" in "How to Play With Your Food", Villard Books, New York, 1992:
"When a regular old dill pickle is skewered on two metal pins and 110 ac, regular old U.S. of A. house current is run through the pins, the pickle glows a ghostly yellow. It's the most beautifully goofy science thing you will ever see." They point out that Mr Wizard demonstrated the pickle on The Tonight Show, January 24, 1990 and that the pickle was described in Scot Morris' Games column in Omni magazine, December, 1990.
- Don't attempt this at home!
- Original construction: the plug with alligator clips was made from a standard 2' long power cord. Each lead of the cord was soldered to an alligator clip. All other equipment was purchased.
- Cooking a hot dog
If you have any questions about the demos or notes you would like to add to this page, contact Ricky Chu at ricky_chu AT sfu DOT ca.