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I had recent came across this question when unintentionally tearing a piece of my journal paper. These atoms' bonds are pulled apart when the paper is torn, but is there a way to put them back together?

Now i know that, depending on the object, the method can vary. According to an article i read Franken-Physics: Atoms split then put back together this can be done. However i wasnt given enough info on what atom they split, as they can vary per object.

Though i am not well educated in the field of quantum physics i understand in some instances this will work. Can anyone clear this up for me regarding what types of materials can undergo this.

Edit: Forgive my ignorance when i said they are obviously split. i do realize the bonds were pulled apart. i just didn't word it as so


marked as duplicate by Aaron Stevens, Ben Crowell, John Rennie, Emilio Pisanty, GiorgioP Mar 1 at 22:12

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    $\begingroup$ These atoms are obviously split when the paper is torn... Not at all actually $\endgroup$ – Aaron Stevens Mar 1 at 17:11

You make an incorrect assumption here:

These atoms are obviously split when the paper is torn

When you tear a piece of paper, what is actually breaking are the bonds between different atoms. These bonds are entirely dependent on the configuration of the electron cloud of the atom, and have nothing to do with splitting the atom itself (which, in colloquial language, usually refers to nuclear fission). So, when you tear a piece of paper, the electron clouds of the atoms on either side of the tear rearrange themselves, but by any conventional definition, no atom can be called "split."

Even in cases where an electron transfer occurs across the chain, the resulting process is referred to as ionization rather than atom-splitting. It is quite difficult indeed to be in a situation where there is a significant amount of net ionization on both sides of the tear, so you can safely ignore this for a piece of paper (though it's not insignificant for certain materials: for example, unrolling Scotch tape extremely fast causes massive temporary ionization, and the displaced electrons rocket back to their original atoms, emitting X-rays in the process).

With that in mind, we can answer your question in two different ways. Of course, since there is no atom-splitting going on when you tear a piece of paper, you technically don't need to do anything to "put them back together." But if we assume that what you meant was:

The bonds between the atoms are obviously split when the paper is torn, but is there a way to put them back together?

the answer is yes, because this is precisely why paper recycling works. The incoming used paper is washed, to remove ink and other contaminants, and then left to soak in a particular solution (the composition of which partly determines the color, consistency, strength, etc. of the resulting paper), where it eventually turns into a slurry. Paper is made of long fibers of cellulose arranged essentially randomly; when immersed in water, those fibers spread out throughout the solution. Then the slurry is rolled into sheets and left to dry; as the water leaves, the cellulose fibers end up weakly attracted to each other (the "weak" part is important; it's why you can easily tear a piece of paper in the first place), which leads to a similar kind of random arrangement of weakly-bonded cellulose fibers that we start with.

  • $\begingroup$ Re, "...where an electron transfer occurs...referred to as ionization." I thought that "ionization" wassomething that happens in gas phase (e.g., formation of a plasma) or, in liquid phase (e.g., dissolution of some ionic solid). There's another name for what happens when two solid objects become separated from one another; That's triboelectricity. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Mar 1 at 18:10
  • $\begingroup$ Just wondering- might it be more accurate to state that the bonds that are breaking in this case are predominantly those between macromolecules and not the atoms themselves? $\endgroup$ – niels nielsen Mar 1 at 18:57

I just wanted to point out that an atom cannot be split (or cut loose in such a way that it remains like that freely), they would have to recombine in order to achieve their stable electron configuration.


When you tear a piece of paper, I don't think the atoms are being splitted along the break line because it's far more easy and consumes far less energy separating the atoms into the two pieces that having to cut through every individual atom along the break line. If by splitting you mean something like disintegrating an helium atom into two hydrogen atoms, that happens very well in a fission reactor. It doesn't take just some shear force to split an atom, it requires more of a pinpoint precise energy bombardment to get atoms to give in and split.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm interested in what kind of fission reactor splits helium into hydrogen. Please give me a reference for that. $\endgroup$ – Bill N Mar 1 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ Reactors uses uranium or plutonium. That was just to simplify what I understood by "splitting" atoms. $\endgroup$ – TechDroid Mar 1 at 21:07

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