Electric Pickle

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2024-06-13 11:00:09

Overview: Atomic emission spectra are unique spectra of light emitted by an element when electricity is applied.  A pickle produces an emission spectrum with primarily one line from the sodium doublet at 589nm.

NOTE: The demonstration must be led by an adult and everyone must stay back and out of arm’s reach.  Do NOT try this at home.  BE VERY CAREFUL.

Pickles contain salt, both sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl–) ions.  Applying electricity excites the sodium electrons, which then emit light as they relax back to their ground state.  The yellow light produced is unique to sodium, and is the same color as the sodium vapor lights often used as street lamps (shown below).

Just as sodium atoms produces yellow light when excited, different atoms produce different wavelengths of light called emission spectra.  Astronomers can use the emission spectra of faraway stars to determine their composition.

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