electric_pickle

How to Make the Electric Pickle Experiment

electric_pickle

A long-desired experiment in many Intro-to-Lighting lectures, the famed Electric Pickle Experiment is something that many older lighting teachers have shown to their classes over the years.  Ever seen this done?

Also, this:

And one more, for posterity — what’s hilarious at the end of this video is the comment “I wonder what other fruits will glow?” followed by the hot dog…

The Electric Pickle is an interesting experiment that literally burns out the idea of a non-ohmic resistor.  Think light emitting diode — dependent on voltage in order to work.  What happens in the Electric Pickle Experiment is that once a voltage (120V) is placed across the pickle, there are Sodium anodes (Na+, electron expelling) and Chloride cathodes (Cl-, electron grabbing) that are excited to outside orbital levels of the atom.  Just like a sodium vapor lamp, once the electric field charges the pickle, sodium atoms let go of an electron, causing a photon to be released once the haul tail back to lower energy levels in the atom.  The result?  Pickle light!

HERE’S A BOLD TYPE WARNING:  120V to GROUND CAN KILL YOU DEADER THAN WHITNEY HOUSTON.  IT’S SERIOUS.  YOU PERFORM THESE STEPS AT YOUR OWN RISK, NONE OF THIS IS MY FAULT IF YOU SCREW UP.  YOUR ERRORS IN THIS EXPERIMENT CAN CAUSE YOU DEATH OR SERIOUS BODILY HARM, AND EVEN HARM OR DEATH TO THOSE AROUND YOU.

SAFETY STUFF FIRST:

  • The most salty pickles are the ones that work the beat for this experiment.
  • MAKE SURE that you’re working with some kind of circuit-breaking device in line, like a 15A power strip or a custom-built breaker system in line for this experiment.
  • KEEP THE STUDENTS and OTHER OBSERVERS AWAY FROM THE EQUIPMENT!!!!!!!!!  If possible, get some kind of a blast shield or Plexiglas panel between the pickle and the observers.
  • Get some air to the place you’ll be doing the Electric Pickle Experiment, this thing stinks like none other, seriously.
  • REFRAIN from EATING THE COOKED PICKLE!  It tastes like roasted refried shit!

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • SALTY PICKLES
  • two (2) large nails
  • some kind of circuit breaking device in line with your “pickle circuit”
  • a length (let’s say 3 feet for posterity) of 12 gauge, INSULATED 2-conductor lamp cable or a white insulated and black insulated 12 gauge lead
  • obviously, a male Edison plug (which is a redundant statement, five extra credit points for WHY)
  • a glass container that is JUST larger than the pickles you’re using
  • two 20A alligator clamps WITH RUBBER SAFETY SHIELDS on them

HOW TO:

  1. install your lamp cable or single lead runs into the Edison plug
  2. install the alligator clamps to the other ends of the lamp cable or single leads — ONE CLAMP PER LEAD!
  3. insert a nail into either side of the pickle
  4. place the pickle onto the glass jar, allowing the nails to rest on the glass jar, suspending the pickle
    NOTE:  MAKE SURE THE NAILS AREN’T TOUCHING INSIDE THE PICKLE, but that they are SOLIDLY MOUNTED in the pickle
  5. plug your circuit breaking device into the power source with the DEVICE IN THE OFF POSITION
  6. attach the alligator clamps to the nails, one per nail, to complete the circuit once the pickle is plugged in
  7. MAKE SURE NO ONE IS TOUCHING ANY OF THE EQUIPMENT!!!
  8. CHECK AGAIN to MAKE SURE NO ONE IS IN ANY KIND OF CONTACT WITH THE EQUIPMENT!
  9. Have someone standing by at the light switch in the room
  10. Plug in the pickle in to the power, then switch the breaker ON
  11. shut off the room lights, observe the pickle light!
  12. AS SOON AS THE PICKLE STOPS GLOWING, KILL THE POWER TO THE PICKLE!

Lots of care and caution need to go into this experiment.  Why?  Because I said so, and because this is putting 120V, 15-20A through a PICKLE.  It’s DANGEROUS!

Items of Note:

  • You can use a dimmer or rheostat to achieve this experiment successfully, too — just make sure you kill the power when the pickle quits doing its light bulb trick.
  • Make SURE you have some air to your room, this is a stinky experiment!
  • Once you have done the experiment, make sure that you either remove the “pickle probe” from student pervue for safety.  You never know, even in University settings.  Hide that thing.
  • DON’T EAT THE PICKLE!
  • If the pickle weren’t already green, you’d be seeing light in the 588-590nm wavelength range.  Crazy, huh?

Now BE CAREFUL!

PickleOLED

BONUS NERDERY:  Here’s Vladimir Bulovic to tell the world about how OLEDs and the glowing pickle have SO many things in common!

Thanks to PopSci and S3 for the pickle-images!