October 23, 2008

Startling Scotch Tape Discovery Made

Physicists have found an amazing discovery in a common household item: Scotch tape. 

They found if you peel the popular adhesive tape off its roll in a vacuum chamber, it emits X-rays.

"We were very surprised," said Juan Escobar. "The power you could get from just peeling tape was enormous."

Escobar, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, reports the work with UCLA colleagues in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

More than 50 years ago, some Russian scientists made a similar discovery when they reported evidence of X-rays from peeling sticky tape off glass.

Escobar said the process might be harnessed for making inexpensive X-ray machines for paramedics or for places where electricity is expensive or hard to get.

James Hevezi, who chairs the American College of Radiology's Commission on Medical Physics, said the notion of developing an X-ray machine from the new finding was "a very interesting idea and I think it should be carried further in research."

The researchers and UCLA are trying to get a patent to cover such devices.

In the study, researchers peeled ordinary Scotch tape off a roll in a vacuum chamber at about 1.2 inches per second.

Rapid pulses of X-rays, each about a billionth of a second long, emerged from very close to where the tape was coming off the roll.

The study found electrons jumped from the roll to the sticky underside of the tape that was being pulled away. When those electrons struck the sticky side they slowed down, and emitted X-rays.

Escobar said X-rays are produced in the presence of air, which requires a vacuum.

"If you're going to peel tape in a vacuum, you should be extra careful," he said. But "I will continue to use Scotch tape during my daily life, and I think it's safe to do it in your office. No guarantees."


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