How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works
 

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
 
Question 701

There is an experiment involving grapes and microwaves that we found on the internet. If a grape is cut in half—with a piece of skin attached between the two halves—and it is then microwaves, sparks are produced. What is happening? — GB, Antioch, CA
This experiment is described in Fun with Grapes - A Case Study. While I haven't tried it yet myself, I believe I know why it works. Grape juice is somewhat able to conduct electricity and the two halves of the grape are connected by a weak conducting path: the skin bridge. When the microwave oven is turned on, the microwaves not only heat the water in the grapes, they also push a few mobile electric charges back and forth through the skin bridge from one side of the grape to the other. This current releases energy as it passes through the narrow bridge and it heats the bridge extremely hot. The bridge soon catches fire and the electric current driven by the microwaves begins to pass through the flame. When current passes through a gas, it tends to ionize that gas (remove electrons from the gas atoms) so that the gas itself begins to conduct electricity. When current flows through atmospheric pressure air, it forms a brilliant arc. In this case, the arc that you see is powered by the microwaves as they push electric charges back and forth from one side of the grape to the other. An excellent set of movies showing this and other microwave oven experiments appears at http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~maarten/microwave/microwave.html.
         

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