Why Do Some Fruits and Vegetables Conduct Electricity?

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By Joanna Fantozzi

At any science fair, you’re almost guaranteed to see at least two go-to experiments: the clichéd papier-mâché volcano and the ever-popular pickle or potato battery. Many people may think it’s amazing that a simple piece of produce can conduct electricity. As it turns out, that’s not the whole story.

There are many types of electrical conductors. These include traditional electrical conductors, such as the copper and silver wires that are used to run electrical currents in homes and buildings, and ionic conductors, which can power electricity via free moving ions. Organic material, such as human tissue or the potato in your science experiment, are ionic conductors that create ionic circuits. Electrolytes — chemical compounds that create ions when they are dissolved in water — in these materials do all of the work.

“Fruits and vegetables conduct electricity in the same way a salt solution will complete an electrical circuit,” Michael Hickner, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State, told Live Science. “It’s due to the ions in the salt solution. They don’t conduct electrons [as traditional electrical conductors do].

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