Why you should never store film next to your tape dispenser.

I know it’s all useless knowledge in the days of digital cameras and even camera phones, but there used to be rules about where you could put film.  You stored unexposed rolls in your checked baggage when you were going on long trips.  If you had to have an extra roll with you, you counted how many times you sent it through he X-ray machine – over 5 exposures tended to expose the film.  It was recommended that film canisters be kept in a cool, dry environment. Today with digital memory we don’t really have those same risks and worries.  But if we did, there might be a new threat to unused film – Scotch tape.

A research group at UCLA has constructed a tape-powered X-ray machine.  Evidently the knowledge that tape-peeling makes X-rays has been around for decades, but this particular machine seals a roll of tape on spool in a vacuum.  A motor peels the tape on the reels beneath a glass plate, which causes X-rays to be produced, as shown on the video with the use of X-ray film.  The video is below.

Of course, the X-rays are actually produced in part because the tape is in a vacuum (Note researcher Juan Escobar “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.”)

The moral of the story is that we shouldn’t store film next to tape.  But there are other, larger morals to be gained as well.  We do not and cannot know the extent various impacts the environment has on us.  Who knows what new discoveries will come from the use of staplers, mechanical pencils, or other office supplies?  Who knows what we will discover more fully about the world in the next day or even the next hour?  But, though we will never see the whole picture, it’s nice to know more about my own little corner of it and beyond.

Update:  Here’s the CNN link and here’s the original article in Nature.  The CNN article doesn’t give much more detail.  The Nature article gives quite a bit, including  areference to the physical publication which may have even more information.  My favorite quote?  “The researchers suggest that the high charge density generated by peeling the tape could be great enough to trigger nuclear fusion. Michael Loughlin, a nuclear analyst at the international nuclear fusion experiment, ITER, in Cadarache, France, is sceptical. But he adds that if he is proved wrong, a system that could provide fusion reactions at the flick of a switch would be very useful.”, second only to the subtitle of the article: “How weird is that?”  Researchers have also noted that the device may in time become useful as a part of low-cost medical devices.  New studies are now being started both in the investigation of X-ray discharge from similar substances as well as in mechanoluminescent systems.  In addition, there are still questions to solve regarding why X-rays in particular are given off, as well as the process for general energy release when tape is peeled.