X-Rays with Tape?

Ted Beyerby: Ted Beyer

Here at Educational Innovations we always keep an eye out for that new science related story or gadget that might turn into a great product for teachers to use in their classroom. More often than not, if we do spot something, it turns up at the lunch table as a topic of conversation. Recently, I heard something on the radio that made me think that it was, perhaps, April 1, 2008 rather than late October.

It seems that scientists have discovered that you can make X-rays with tape: If you pull 3M® brand Scotch Tape off the roll while in a vacuum, it will emit a significant quantity of X-rays.

This sure sounded like lunch conversation material, so I did a little research.

It turns out that the actual science behind this behavior is not understoodBroken Bones X-Rays well by the scientists themselves. What is clear was reported by the Associated press, “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. That’s where electrons jumped from the roll to the sticky underside of the tape that was being pulled away, a journey of about two-thousandths of an inch, Escobar said. When those electrons struck the sticky side they slowed down, and that slowing made them emit X-rays.” The effect was first noted by Russian researchers in the 1950s. What THEY were doing with tape in a vacuum is not clear either!

The power of the X-rays was sufficient for the researchers at UCLA to actually create an image of a human finger using their apparatus and some standard X-ray film.

They believe that the effect can be exploited to create low cost, light weight, low power X-ray devices for use in remote areas, or by emergency personnel such as paramedics.

All of this started us wondering – could we use items around the shop to reproduce the effect? After all, we have a vacuum chamber, and lots of tape, as well as neodymium magnets that might be used to move the tape through the chamber wall… Then our hectic show season, our frenzied work on the American Physical Society’s Physics Quest project and what for us is a very busy time filling orders before the holidays all took away any hope of time to work on the project. Perhaps one of you can whip something up that you could share with us.

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