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Correlation between nanosecond X-ray flashes and stick–slip friction in peeling tape


Relative motion between two contacting surfaces can produce visible light, called triboluminescence1. This concentration of diffuse mechanical energy into electromagnetic radiation has previously been observed to extend even to X-ray energies2. Here we report that peeling common adhesive tape in a moderate vacuum produces radio and visible emission3,4, along with nanosecond, 100-mW X-ray pulses that are correlated with stick–slip peeling events. For the observed 15-keV peak in X-ray energy, various models5,6 give a competing picture of the discharge process, with the length of the gap between the separating faces of the tape being 30 or 300 μm at the moment of emission. The intensity of X-ray triboluminescence allowed us to use it as a source for X-ray imaging. The limits on energies and flash widths that can be achieved are beyond current theories of tribology.

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Figure 1: Apparatus for studying high-energy emission from peeling tape.
Figure 2: Correlation between X-rays, force and radio frequency.
Figure 3: Spectrum of X-ray energies from peeling one roll of tape.
Figure 4: Light spectra from peeling tape.


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We thank R. Lofstedt for bringing to our attention the importance of ref. 14; C. Regan for advice; B. Naranjo for many insights and for use of his uniquely designed liquid scintillator detection system; B. Kappus and S. Khalid for experimental assistance; J. Cambier for valuable discussions, E. Adams for archival assistance; and A. Bass for an independent translation of ref. 2. We thank Hamamatsu Corporation for lending us X-ray cameras. Various stages of this research were supported by the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Microsystems Technologies Office and Defense Sciences Office) . J.E. thanks the Fulbright–Garcia Robles Scholarship Program and UC-MEXUS-CONACYT for support.

Author Contributions J.H. was instrumental in motivating this research. J.E. pinned down the correlation between the force and X-ray emission. C.C. obtained the GeV pulses, and S.P. is the principal investigator.

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Correspondence to Carlos G. Camara or Juan V. Escobar.

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Camara, C., Escobar, J., Hird, J. et al. Correlation between nanosecond X-ray flashes and stick–slip friction in peeling tape. Nature 455, 1089–1092 (2008).

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