Oddest announcement of the last few weeks: Peeling tape can emit X-rays | The American Ceramic Society

Oddest announcement of the last few weeks: Peeling tape can emit X-rays


Maybe a newly rediscovered property of Scotch tape is the reason the 3M company has been doing better in the last few months than the rest of the stock market. The discovery/rediscovery, as reported in Nature, is that when you peel adhesive tape off its roll in a vacuum chamber, it emits some strong X-rays. One researcher even made an X-ray image of one of their fingers. The ability of some tapes to unleash visible light when being peeled has been known for sometime and it was always a little bit of a concern to those of us who – in the old days – opened cans of 35 mm film in darkrooms. But it turns out that Russian scientists reported evidence of X-rays from peeling sticky tape off glass a half-century ago.

The new work takes this old research a step further by documenting the strength of the X-rays. “We were very surprised,” said Juan Escobar, a UCLA grad student and one of the authors of the Nature report. “The power you could get from just peeling tape was enormous.” Is there any practicality to this property? Escobar thinks it could be used to make inexpensive and/or portable X-ray machines running with only human power. Escobar and his colleagues have even applied for a patent covering such devices. Escobar says the tape-produced X-rays only occur in a vacuum, so the rest of us are safe when wrapping packages or mending our glasses. “If you’re going to peel tape in a vacuum, you should be extra careful,” he said. “I will continue to use Scotch tape during my daily life, and I think it’s safe to do it in your office.” But, it is a little unnerving that he quickly added, “No guarantees.”