Thursday, March 14, 2019

Bad science: fruit batteries

" But, you can actually use chemical energy stored in a lemon and two metals to make a current and light up a small LED. It’s true and we’ll show you exactly how it’s done." 
Steve Spangler Science 

Et tu, Steve?

There are many ways to get to the free energy available in a fruit.

The simplest is to eat it. You have a few billions years worth of living behind you, and animals are pretty good at using the energy found in the chemical bonds of foodstuff to recombine phosphate and adenosine diphoshate, giving your cells an abundant supply of their basic energy currency, ATP.

You could dry it out until it's kindling then light it on fire.

You could mix it with yeast and let it ferment. The yeast will reward you with a wine that will warm you up. If that's not enough you could distill the wine, concentrating the ethanol enough to make a flammable liquid that can be used for heating your home or powering your car.

You cannot, however, get free energy from a fruit to power a battery. This is bad science. The fruit simply acts as a bridge for the electrons of one metal to travel to the other, different metal.

There's a reason you do not find most metals in a pure state in nature. If you want iron, you dig up iron ore, then smelt it. That, of course, requires free energy. When you connect copper and zinc together with some sort of liquid bridge. (Acids work, so does salt water--the salty vinegar dripping from your chips would work great.)

Fruits have tremendous stores of free energy, and animals, fungi, and bacteria take advantage of this--you want to eat the fruit before it rots, but rotting is just another organism beating you to the rich deliciousness of fruit.

If you want its energy, eat it, don't waste it jamming metals into it. If you want to show that fruit can serve as connection bridge in a battery, because it's cool and gets kids interested in science, go for it!

Just don't tell them that the fruit is powering the battery.


Kathryn J said...

Oh I've missed your writing! I spend more time in the education twitterverse than blogs these days but I need to visit yours more often.

Unknown said...

Thank you for pointing this misuse of words out. I am a science teacher and find myself frequently preaching to my students about using words in science carefully. Our words have precise meaning for a reason; to accurately convey meaning. And just because you are presenting to a younger audience does not excuse the misuse. Teach them correctly from the beginning.

Steve Spangler said...

Doyle - This is Steve Spangler and your old post was just brought to my attention. You're absolutely correct. During the years when I owned Steve Spangler Science we had a team of teachers and contributors that helped out with experiments. I'm so sorry that someone wrote "chemical energy" instead of sharing the idea that the fruit acts as an electron bridge.

I wanted to let you know that an education company called Excelligence Learning Corporation purchased the Steve Spangler Science brand and the website at back in 2018.

Here's an update from the new owners about the experiment library...

"Over the years, Steve and his team created many resources for parents and teachers to use on the website including the EXPERIMENTS section that you referenced in your email. Unfortunately, without Steve and his team of teacher creators, we at Excelligence Learning Corporation do not have the necessary people to maintain the experiment resources on the website. Unfortunately, we had to make the decision to shut down the experiment library."