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SPIE MTU Student Chapter fluoresce the night away with optics outreach

SPIE Student Chapter members at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI shared UV Fluorescence with dozens of students and community members during the annual Winter Carnival event at Michigan Tech. Winter Carnival is an annual winter festival where alumni and guests come to Houghton from all over the country to celebrate winter and snow. Students spend weeks building giant ice sculptures for a school wide competition. The SPIE Student Chapter wanted to become involved in the event to publicize the chapter and photonics. With the increasing popularity of energy drinks among college students, having the ability to demonstrate a unique fluorescence property of Monster energy drink was an ideal experiment for an outreach event.

Chapter Members set up a table during winter carnival and demonstrated how different liquids fluoresce under UV light. With the aid of a small sponsorship from Monster Energy Company, members showed how Monster energy drinks and tonic water fluoresce. A UV LED was mounted onto the top of a wooden box (shown below) and could then illuminate the space below. It was done this way so that a person could take a random drink cup and place it under the LED to determine if it fluoresced the same as the Monster drink.

Students discovered that tonic water fluoresces blue while most Monster energy drink types fluoresced green. An interesting side effect was that after prolonged exposure to UV light, ingredients within the Monster energy drinks began to break down and separate to form an inhomogenous liquid.

Students also experimented with various UV sources including a black light bulb. Inexpensive black light bulbs sufficed for giving the drinks a slightly eerie fluorescence glow but did not have enough energy to cause a the entire drink to fluorescence.

The SPIE MTU Student Chapter plans on continuing this demonstration for future optics education outreach events.