Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Katherine Bourzac

A View from Katherine Bourzac

X-Rays Made with Scotch Tape

Unwinding Scotch tape produces enough radiation to image a human finger.

  • October 23, 2008

When you bite down on wintergreen-flavored LifeSavers candies in the dark, they glow. The production of light by some materials when under friction or pressure, a phenomenon called triboluminescence, has been known for centuries, mostly as a novelty. Now researchers have shown that rapidly unwinding a roll of Scotch tape inside a vacuum generates not only visible light but also enough x-rays to image a human finger. Led by physicist Seth Putterman at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the researchers are now developing what they hope will be a cheap, simple source of x-rays for clinical imaging.

Credit: Juan Escobar and Carlos Camara

According to the UCLA work, published in the journal Nature this week, unpeeling Scotch tape at a speed of three centimeters per second produces large numbers of x-rays. However, Carlos Camara, a postdoc in Putterman’s lab, says that there’s no need to worry about exposure while wrapping your holiday gifts: the high-energy radiation is only produced when the tape is peeled under vacuum conditions.

Below, you can watch Camara, Putterman, and UCLA postdoc Juan Escobar demonstrate the Scotch-tape imaging technique, capturing a picture of Escobar’s finger on a dental x-ray film. The images don’t have the same quality as clinical x-ray images: “They’re taken with Scotch tape, so there’s room for improvement,” says Camara.

The UCLA researchers used the Scotch tape to prove that triboluminescence can be harnessed for x-ray imaging. Their ultimate imaging device, Camara predicts, won’t use the adhesive. Having applied for several patents, the UCLA researchers are not yet ready to divulge just what triboluminescent material they’ll use. Perhaps Wint-O-Green mints?

Video credit: Nature
You can view the full video here.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.