Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Crystals Creating Electricity
Name: Nisarg and Patrick
Status: student
Grade: 4-5
Location: TX
Country: N/A
Date: 12/21/2005

Can crystals create energy in the form of electricity?

Hi Nisarg and Patrick

Well, sort of. You may be thinking of something called triboluminescence. It is a huge word that means rubbing causes light. You can see it yourself if you get some Wintergreen Life Savers. Darken the room and when your eyes become accustomed to the dark, look at yourself in a mirror when you chomp on a Life Saver (you will have to do it so you can see the Life Saver!). You will see some blue flashes of light when the candy breaks. This comes from the sugar molecules breaking apart and creating electricity! You can see it very well in Wintergreen Life Savers because there is a material in the candy that will fluoresce, that is, it make some of the light that is invisible to you become visible.

Robert Froehlich

Certain crystals can generate a voltage when they are put under a stress...this is called piezoelectricity. BUT crystals do not put out energy on their own. They have to absorb energy in some form and will put out less energy than they absorb.

Peter Faletra

Yes they can! Well, some of them anyhow.

The property is referred to as "Piezo-electric". One of the more common such materials is quartz. Under pressure, a small electrical charge can be generated. On the other hand, if a small charge is placed across a thin enough piece of quartz, it will bend or distort slightly. Where this comes in VERY useful is in timing circuits. A small piece of quartz is very precisely tuned to a very specific frequency. This means that they can tune a radio, or keep time with incredible precision, by regulating how fast they go.

For example, take a piece of quartz tuned to vibrate 10,000 times per second. If you use a simple counter, and only advance once per 10,000 cycles, you can move the second hand on a watch with a tiny magnet. In another 10,000 cycles, you can do it again!

Ryan Belscamper

Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory