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It's Electric!

December 12, 2018

So I got in the mood today to electrocute a pickle, and figured it would work as an exciting demonstration for some of my students. After much optimization in terms of the electricity necessary to do this, I am proud to say that we were successful and did in fact electrocute a pickle. We also tasted the pickle afterwards, and it turns out, it just tasted like a warm pickle. 

 

But for real, why would I electrocute a pickle? And more importantly, how can you do the same thing in your home? 

 

First of all, the science. It turns out that pickles have a lot of sodium chloride (read: salt), which is kind of what defines their existence as pickles. This salt is really good at conducting electricity, and so, when you attach a copper wire to each end and find a power source, you can complete the circuit and cause the pickle to light up like a light bulb. Interestingly, the pickle lights up in an orange color, because the sodium ions in the sodium chloride give off that characteristic color. This kind of setup works with anything that has enough electrolytes in it, which includes oranges and grapefruit slices, but does not include apples. Also, in case you were curious, trying to wire up many pickles in series by using copper wire to bridge them does not work as well. Also also, if you pickle cucumbers in other salt solutions (that are not sodium chloride), it turns out that the pickles will light up a different color.

 

If you want to read more about this exciting demonstration, check out the links below:

 

http://sustainable-nano.com/2017/09/07/electrocuting-pickle/

 

http://sites.jmu.edu/chemdemo/2011/06/13/electrocute-a-pickle/

 

Second of all, why did I do this? Well I have been doing demonstrations throughout the semester in my senior-level organic chemistry class, mostly to keep the students interested and engaged in learning. There are lots of studies that have demonstrated the value of these kinds of demonstrations and hands-on engagement, and also, it’s just good fun. We also did the pickle electrocution as part of our Science of Hanukkah event that we ran at the JCC Newton last Sunday, and which was full of Hanukkah-themed science tables and events.

 

*NOTE: IF you are planning to try this at home, take all proper precautions for electricity and current generation and closing circuits and stuff. Electricity can be scary stuff.

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