I was browsing Reddit and I stumbled upon this. It is a video on making duct tape glow a blue light by pulling two pieces of duct tape apart. Appearntly the glowing is caused by something called Triboluminescence.

Triboluminescence is an optical phenomenon in which light is generated through the breaking of chemical bonds in a material when it is pulled apart, ripped, scratched, crushed, or rubbed. The phenomenon is not fully understood, but appears to be caused by the separation and reunification of electrical charges. (Wikipedia)

This doesn't tell me very much, mostly because I don't fully understand what "separation and reunification of electrical charges." really means. So can anyone explain how seperation and reunification of electric charges can give rise to this blue glow?

  • $\begingroup$ Quote from video description: "What's happening is that the action of pulling apart the glue causes charge separation in the two strips. The charges then attempt to recombine and collide with nearby molecules (of tape, glue, or air) exciting them and releasing light. Interestingly, in a vacuum there is no air to slow down the charges so they collide at full energy and release x-rays. This serves as the basis for the sticky-tape x-ray machine published in the journal Nature." $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2013 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ Related questions: physics.stackexchange.com/q/21831/2451 and links therein. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Nov 24, 2013 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ read also this en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triboelectric_effect . The root, tribo, is from greek meaning "rubbing". Triboluminescense is at the tail end of the materials, where possibly charge separation uses more energy than simple rubbing and de-excites locally (instead of the collective spark we get after rubbing fur) . for a model see also this santarosa.edu/search/search.php?q=triboluminescence $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Nov 24, 2013 at 19:41

1 Answer 1


Do you know that you are glowing right now? Especially your brain that glow alpha and beta wave, known as aura

When electron was shaken by any action it would always generate electromagnetic wave. However, normally electron was not shaken in enough frequency to generate visible light so you never see it. But sometimes it can generate visible light and when you can see it, it was called luminescence

Triboluminesense is the name given to any mechanical action that breaking chemical bond which can shake electron in the visible frequency

By breaking chemical bond it shaking electron but each chemical bond in each material not always shake electron in the same frequency. And only some will generate visible light

There are many kind of effect that can shake electron to glow, even now you are glowing infrared because electron in molecule shaken from temperature. And when the iron is very hot, it would glow red hot by this effect (called incandescence)

  • $\begingroup$ Triboluminescence is not an effect of heat or anything like blackbody radiation. Your "shaking electron" description is simplified to the point of being wrong. The effect is the result of a separation of electric charge. Think "lightening" and not blackbody radiation or florescence. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2013 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ @BrandonEnright You read it wrong. I already mention that effect about heat is called incandescence. I just use it to state that the basic nature of light is the same in all effect, electron shaking, both incandescence and Triboluminesense is just different way of shaking electron but the result is the same, electron shaking and generate electromagnetic wave $\endgroup$
    – Thaina
    Nov 24, 2013 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Light is on the order of $4-8 \times 10^{14}\: \mathrm{Hz}$. Electrons do not "shake" at this frequency. Light emission is due to an energy transition. $\endgroup$ Nov 24, 2013 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ Energy transition is just one kind of effect to make electron shake. It not the only way to generate light. Incandescence is not energy transition but still generate light is one counterexample for you $\endgroup$
    – Thaina
    Nov 24, 2013 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ At the most basic form of every effect. Electromagnetic wave just generate from electron shaking in that frequency, the word shake does not meant you can grab electron and shake by your hand. But I mean it shaking from any things, heat is one way, even bubble collapse can make light too, it called sonoluminescense $\endgroup$
    – Thaina
    Nov 24, 2013 at 21:32

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