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Despicable Science Part 2: Glow-in-the-Dark Minions

What do the minions from Despicable Me, light sticks, and tonic water have in common? Chemiluminescence!

By
Lee Falin, PhD,
August 10, 2013
Episode #065

Page 2 of 2

...That's because there are lots of different combinations manufacturers use in order to create this light-emitting reaction. There are even several recipes available for making your own, but if you're not that into ordering chemicals, you can make your own glow in the dark fun just by cutting open a highlighter and mixing the contents with water. Unfortunatly, this mixture will only glow under a black light, but if you have one available, it can be lots of fun.

Come Down to My Level

So just how does this glowing work? If you remember my episode on atomic bonds, you'll know that in an atom, the electrons spend their time in specific areas around the atom’s nucleus. There are several different layers of electron hang-outs, Each layer, or shell, corresponds to a certain level of energy. The electrons contained within the shells closest to the nucleus have less energy than those contained in the outer shells.

When the energy from the lightstick's chemical reaction hits the electrons in the flourescent dye, it causes them to jump to a higher energy level. But all good things must come to an end, and just like how you feel after the rush of energy from eating a candy bar subsides, eventually the electrons come crashing back down to their previous level of energy. When they do, that extra energy they absorbed is released in the form of visible light, which causes the stick to glow.

If you've ever seen certain clothes, toys, or other items glowing under a black light, you are seeing this same transfer of energy in action: electrons absorbing energy, jumping to a higher energy level, and then releasing the energy as visible light when they go back to their previous level. This is also the process used by flourescent and neon lights.

Assemble the Minions

So how does this work inside a minion? One possibility is that the minon's skin is itself made up of flourscent dye, and that the minion previously swallowed a glass tube containing a chemical. When that tube is broken, perhaps it mixes with another chemical inside his stomach, allowing his skin to glow. However it works, you can have lots of fun making your own glowing water using the steps outlined by Crystal Underwood on her blog Growing a Jewled Rose.

If you liked today’s episode, you can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.

Minions image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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