October 23, 2010

Instructions for the Great Electric Pickle!

In a search for cool science to do at our mini mad scientist lab, I came across something called the electric pickle.  It looked awesome, but I couldn't easily find a place to tell me how to make my own.  Most demonstrations used fancy stands and very specific looking equipment, so what's a girl to do to impress the little ones for Mad Scientist Day?

Well, I figured out a way to do it at home, and like a good blogger I will tell you DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.  If you're a kid reading this, I really mean it.  If you're a home schooling mom who is responsible for providing scientific adventures for your kid, follow these instructions with your kids at a safe distance and have a blast knocking their sock off with a little demonstration of the conductive powers of the pickle!

So if you're wondering what's actually happening here, the pickle becomes what is called a Sodium vapor lamp or a gas discharge lamp which uses sodium in an excited state to produce light.  Excited sodium makes for a fabulous light show!

And I have to mention that the boys seemed underwhelmed by this.  I'm guessing that they were actually thinking, "So what?  A lamp that's shaped like a pickle?  I've seen cooler."  Hannah Jane, on the other hand, gasped with delight and just looked mesmerized by the whole thing.  So maybe there's a minimum age for the maximum enjoyment of this activity.  Who knows?

You will need an extension cord, 2 nails or screws, wire strippers or scissors you don't mind dulling, a plastic, non conductive plate, DILL pickles, and an outlet.

I found an extension cord for 92 cents at Wal-Mart.  The Dollar store has them too.  Just don't use your only household extension cord for this because once you've done it, all it will be good for is lighting up pickles and playing in the science geek.  Got it?

Also, the pickle conducts electricity mainly because of the salt content, so sweet pickles yield a less than impressive result.  You want dill.  The bigger the better!

Okay, now for the procedure!

Before you begin, just let me be clear that you follow these steps with the cord UNPLUGGED!!!!!First you'll want to use your wire cutters to clip off the FEMALE end off of the extension cord.  If you cut off the end that plugs into the wall, all you've done is destroyed a perfectly good extension cord for no reason.  So, making sure to cut off the right end, you clip that off, and then make a cut down the center indention of the cord, allowing you to separate the two sides from one another.  Once you have a split, you'll strip about a 2 inch length on the end of each side, exposing the copper wire.  If for some reason you choose to do this with one of those heavy duty orange extension cords, you'll have a third, green wire and you'll want to separate that one and leave it completely away from the pickle, not touching anything, as if it were not there.

Once you've stripped your wires, you'll twist each one around a nail or screw. You'll want a sort of longish screw to get a nice lock to the pickle.

Now that you've set up all your electronics,  with the cord still unplugged, push your screws or nails into opposite ends of the pickle and place the pickle on a plastic plate.  With all young people seated sufficiently far away from the pickle, plug it in and watch the magic.  It will take a few seconds for the pickle to spark up.  You'll have nothing, then a buzzing sound, then some smoke, and finally a brilliant pickle light show!  DO NOT TOUCH THE PICKLE, NAILS, OR WIRES WHILE THE CORD IS PLUGGED IN.  YOU WILL GET ELECTROCUTED!   I made the kids sit so far away that there was no chance of anyone tripping, falling, or just plain forgetting and accidentally making contact with the pickle!

 If you're wanting to take this in the direction of legitimate science rather than just a demonstration, here are a few ideas for ya!

~Have a taste test and compare a fresh from the jar pickle to an electrocuted pickle.  That's what we did in the above picture.  But I must say that my scientist husband (and I mean literal PhD in science.  I'm not just being my normal sarcastic self this time) had some strong misgivings about me letting the kids eat an electrocuted pickle.  So eat at your own risk.  I'm not really sure where to research the chemical transformations that take place within a pickle when it is pumped full of household current.  If you do, let me know!

~Check out this video which explains how an electrocuted pickle is a rough demonstration of how LED screens work. 

~Choose some other food items to electrocute and see which ones are good conductors of electricity and talk about what qualities make for a good light show.  **As the leader of this investigation, use what I told you about sodium lamps to guide you**

Hope you have as much fun with this as we did!!!


  1. Skyla I love it....
    But please do make the kids wear protection goggles when doing this you never know what can happen, even if they are sitting at safe distance...

    now off to the store to get some pickles lol

  2. Anonymous13.10.11

    I am doing this experiment for a class project. And my mom is letting me do it so :p

  3. Anonymous21.5.12

    Hey I would like to do this experiment for a science fair but i am sure i wont have it in the fair CAUSE THAT WOULD BE DANGEROUS i am just going to take a video of how i did it:) thanx:P

  4. Anonymous4.6.13

    would soaking the pickle in salt water help the pickle glow more?

  5. Anonymous 2, the pickling process is essentially saturating the cucumber with salt water. I don't know that you could possibly infuse more salt into a pickle. But you could certainly try. Let me know how that goes for ya!

  6. Anonymous13.6.13

    your an AWSOME mom! do you think theres a way to make the pickle glow without letting off gass? let me know -anonymous

  7. Anonymous16.1.14

    hpw would you electrify an eggplant? :] -aleyah

    1. Hi, Anonymous! I wouldn't expect great results from an eggplant. An alternative activity to the electric pickle is to carry out the same procedure with a cucumber and compare the outcome. When you do this, you will find that pretty much nothing happens. It is the salt from the pickling process that carries the current through the pickle. I suppose that if you were determined to get a cool result with an eggplant, you'd want to pickle it first. Still, with the thick skin and dense flesh of an eggplant...I don't know. I'd love to see what happens if you do it. But pickle it first!!!

  8. Anonymous24.1.14

    I'm doing a science project. ;] - Aleyah


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