Be Amazing: Glow in the Dark

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Whether you're looking to become invisible, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, get out of jury duty, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

YOU WILL NEED

"¢ 1 hand (your own, preferably attached)
"¢ 1 set of fingernails
"¢ 1 powerful photon counter (check your local university research laboratory)
"¢ Photons (don't sweat it, you've already got those)

Do It Because: IT'S ALREADY THERE

Some kids want to be princesses or mermaids. But we always thought it'd be fun to be a firefly. (Not the "hey, your tush is blinking on and off" part, mind you, more just the general glowing.) Turns out, we've always been closer to our dream than we realized. In 2005, researchers at Japan's Hamamatsu Photonics Central Research Laboratory revealed that humans already do glow in the dark. Our hands, feet, and foreheads all shine, thanks to photons—tiny, energized packets of light emitted by our skin. According to a Discovery News article on the study, researchers say that fingernails release the most photons, possibly because the material they're made of can function like a prism, scattering light far and wide. So how's it work? The researchers aren't entirely sure. However, using some hand models and a photon counter, they figured out that warm temperatures, increased oxygen, and mineral oil all increase the photon output—making it likely that the glow is caused by chemiluminescence (a fancy word that simply means "light caused by chemical reactions"). Coincidentally, this is same process that makes those firefly fannies flicker.

Use It To: ATTRACT POTENTIAL MATES, ENTERTAIN YOUR FRIENDS. . . AND HELP OUT YOUR DOCTOR

Besides grade-school wish fulfillment and some serious potential for party tricks, there are actually some practical benefits to this knowledge. Both the Japanese researchers and a second team in Germany say that disease and illness may affect the glow. The Japanese say that sick people emit a dimmer light, while German studies on multiple sclerosis patients revealed that the disease seemed to change the rhythm at which the photon light pulsed. The teams hope that one day their discovery could be used to help doctors diagnose specific disorders in a less invasive way.

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March 3, 2009 - 9:05am
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