Sticky Tape Gives Off X-Rays

Sticky tape gives off light in addition to x-rays when peeled. i i

Sticky tape gives off light in addition to x-rays when peeled. Courtesy of Nature hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Nature
Sticky tape gives off light in addition to x-rays when peeled.

Sticky tape gives off light in addition to x-rays when peeled.

Courtesy of Nature
Researchers display an x-ray photograph of a finger generated by peeling sticky tape. i i

Researchers display an x-ray photograph of a finger generated by peeling sticky tape. Courtesy of Nature hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Nature
Researchers display an x-ray photograph of a finger generated by peeling sticky tape.

Researchers display an x-ray photograph of a finger generated by peeling sticky tape.

Courtesy of Nature

Scientists have known for years that peeling up a strip of sticky tape can set off some subatomic fireworks. But in the current issue of the journal Nature, UCLA researchers prove that the X-rays released are both powerful and plentiful.

"There are a lot of X-rays," says Juan Escobar, a Ph.D. candidate in physics at UCLA. "There are enough that you can actually take a picture of your finger — an X-ray picture of your finger. It's very exciting. It's actually a little bit scary."

Escobar explains the phenomenon: "Whenever you put two surfaces in contact with each other, they are bound to get charged." The charge happens when electrons flow between the two materials.

"And then when you separate the surfaces — and if you do it fast enough — then the charges are still there and that generates an electronic field between them."

"These charges really, really want to jump to the other side of the tape. And when they do that, they emit X-rays," he concludes.

But don't drop your roll of tape in a lead bag just yet. So far, the X-rays have been produced only in a vacuum. "When you just do it in normal pressure, there are no X-rays," Escobar says.

The discovery has potential beyond its novelty, according to Escobar. Developing nations and rural areas where electricity is expensive could benefit from cheap X-rays. And with a little tweaking, Escobar estimates, his group could even improve the output "by a factor of 10."

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