Open main menu
Triboluminescence of Nicotine-L salicylate

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 (see tribology). The phenomenon is not fully understood, but appears to be caused by the separation and reunification of electrical charges. The term comes from the Greek τρίβειν ("to rub"; see tribology) and the Latin lumen (light). Triboluminescence can be observed when breaking sugar crystals and peeling adhesive tapes.

Triboluminescence is often used as a synonym for fractoluminescence (a term sometimes used when referring only to light emitted from fractured crystals). Triboluminescence differs from piezoluminescence in that a piezoluminescent material emits light when it is deformed, as opposed to broken. These are examples of mechanoluminescence, which is luminescence resulting from any mechanical action on a solid.



An Uncompahgre Ute Buffalo rawhide ceremonial rattle filled with quartz crystals. Flashes of light are visible when the quartz crystals are subjected to mechanical stress in darkness.

Uncompahgre Ute IndiansEdit

The Uncompahgre Ute Indians from Central Colorado are one of the first documented groups of people in the world credited with the application of mechanoluminescence involving the use of quartz crystals to generate light.[1][2] The Ute constructed special ceremonial rattles made from buffalo rawhide which they filled with clear quartz crystals collected from the mountains of Colorado and Utah. When the rattles were shaken at night during ceremonies, the friction and mechanical stress of the quartz crystals impacting together produced flashes of light visible through the translucent buffalo hide.

Later descriptionsEdit

The first recorded observation is attributed to English scholar Francis Bacon when he recorded in his 1620 Novum Organum that "It is well known that all sugar, whether candied or plain, if it be hard, will sparkle when broken or scraped in the dark."[3] The scientist Robert Boyle also reported on some of his work on triboluminescence in 1663. In the late 1790s, sugar production began to produce more refined sugar crystals. These crystals were formed into a large solid cone for transport and sale. This solid cone of sugar had to be broken into usable chunks using a device known as sugar nips. People began to notice that as sugar was "nipped" in low light, tiny bursts of light were visible.

A historically important instance of triboluminescence occurred in Paris in 1675. Astronomer Jean-Felix Picard observed that his barometer was glowing in the dark as he carried it. His barometer consisted of a glass tube that was partially filled with mercury. Whenever the mercury slid down the glass tube, the empty space above the mercury would glow. While investigating this phenomenon, researchers discovered that static electricity could cause low-pressure air to glow. This discovery revealed the possibility of electric lighting.

Mechanism of actionEdit

Materials scientists have not yet arrived at a full understanding of the effect, but the current theory of triboluminescence — based upon crystallographic, spectroscopic, and other experimental evidence — is that upon fracture of asymmetrical materials, charge is separated. When the charges recombine, the electrical discharge ionizes the surrounding air, causing a flash of light. Research further suggests [4] that crystals which display triboluminescence must lack symmetry (thus being anisotropic in order to permit charge separation) and be poor conductors. However, there are substances which break this rule, and which do not possess asymmetry, yet display triboluminescence anyway, such as hexakis(antipyrine)terbium iodide.[5] It is thought that these materials contain impurities, which make the substance locally asymmetric.

The biological phenomenon of triboluminescence is conditioned by recombination of free radicals during mechanical activation.[6]


Triboluminescence in quartz

A diamond may begin to glow while being rubbed. This occasionally happens to diamonds while a facet is being ground or the diamond is being sawn during the cutting process. Diamonds may fluoresce blue or red. Some other minerals, such as quartz, are triboluminescent, emitting light when rubbed together.[7]

Ordinary Pressure-sensitive tape ("Scotch tape") displays a glowing line where the end of the tape is being pulled away from the roll.[8] In 1953, Soviet scientists observed that unpeeling a roll of tape in a vacuum produced X-rays.[9] The mechanism of X-ray generation was studied further in 2008.[10][11][12] Similar X-Ray emissions have also been observed with metals.[13]

Also, when sugar crystals are crushed, tiny electrical fields are created, separating positive and negative charges that then create sparks while trying to reunite. Wint-O-Green Life Savers work especially well for creating such sparks, because wintergreen oil (methyl salicylate) is fluorescent and converts ultraviolet light into blue light.[14][15]

Triboluminescence is a biological phenomenon observed in mechanical deformation and contact electrization of epidermal surface of osseous and soft tissues, at chewing food, at friction in joints of vertebrae, during sexual intercourse, and during blood circulation.[16][17]


Fractoluminescence is often used as a synonym for triboluminescence.[18] It is the emission of light from the fracture (rather than rubbing) of a crystal, but fracturing often occurs with rubbing. Depending upon the atomic and molecular composition of the crystal, when the crystal fractures a charge separation can occur making one side of the fractured crystal positively charged and the other side negatively charged. Like in triboluminescence, if the charge separation results in a large enough electric potential, a discharge across the gap and through the bath gas between the interfaces can occur. The potential at which this occurs depends upon the dielectric properties of the bath gas.[19]

EMR propagation during fracturingEdit

The emission of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) during plastic deformation and crack propagation in metals and rocks has been studied. The EMR emissions from metals and alloys have also been explored and confirmed. Molotskii presented a dislocation mechanism for this type of EMR emission.[20] Recently, Srilakshmi and Misra reported an additional phenomenon of secondary EMR during plastic deformation and crack propagation in uncoated and metal-coated metals and alloys.[citation needed]


EMR during the micro-plastic deformation and crack propagation from several metals and alloys and transient magnetic field generation during necking in ferromagnetic metals were reported by Misra (1973–75), which have been confirmed and explored by several researchers. Tudik and Valuev (1980) were able to measure the EMR frequency during tensile fracture of iron and aluminum in the region 1014¬¬ Hz by using photomultipliers. Srilakshmi and Misra (2005a) also reported an additional phenomenon of secondary electromagnetic radiation in uncoated and metal-coated metals and alloys. If a solid material is subjected to stresses of large amplitudes, which can cause plastic deformation and fracture, emissions such as thermal, acoustic, ions, exo-emissions occur. With the discovery of new materials and advancement in instrumentation to measure effects of EMR, crack formation and fracture; the EMR emissions effect becomes important.

Generation of X-RaysEdit

In a moderate vacuum, peeling tape generated x-rays sufficient to x-ray a human finger.[21]

Deformation induced EMREdit

The study of deformation is essential for the development of new materials. Deformation in metals depends on temperature, type of stress applied, strain rate, oxidation and corrosion. Deformation induced EMR can be divided into three categories: effects in ionic crystal materials; effects in rocks and granites; and, effects in metals and alloys. EMR emission depends on the orientation of the grains in individual crystals since material properties are different in differing directions.[22] Amplitude of EMR pulse increases as long as the crack continues to grow as new atomic bonds are broken and it leads to EMR. The Pulse starts to decay as cracking halts.[23] Observations from experiments showed that emitted EMR signals contain mixed frequency components.

Test methods to measure EMREdit

Most widely tensile test method is used to characterize the mechanical properties of materials. From any complete tensile test record, one can obtain important information about the material's elastic properties, the character and extent of plastic deformation, yield and tensile strengths and toughness. The information which can be obtained from one test justifies the extensive use of tensile test in engineering materials research. Therefore, investigations of EMR emissions are mainly based on the tensile test of the specimens. From experiments, it can be shown that tensile crack formation excites more intensive EMR than shear cracking, increasing the elasticity, strength and loading rate during uniaxial loading increases amplitude. Poissons ratio is a key parameter for EMR characterization during triaxial compression.[24] If the poissions ratio is lower, it is harder for the material to strain transversally and hence higher is the probability of new fractures. Mechanism of plastic deformation is very important for safe operation of any component under dynamic conditions.

Uses and applicationsEdit

This EMR can be utilized in developing sensors/smart materials. This technique can be implemented in powder metallurgy technique also. EMR is one of these emissions which accompany large deformation. If an element can be identified which gives maximum EMR response with minimum mechanical stimulus then it can be incorporated into main material and thus set new trends in the development of smart material. The deformation induced EMR can serve as a strong tool for failure detection and prevention.

Orel V.E. invented the device to measure EMR whole blood and lymphocytes in laboratory diagnostics.[25][26][27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ BBC Big Bang on triboluminescence
  2. ^ Timothy Dawson Changing colors: now you see them, now you don't Coloration Technology 2010 doi:10.1111/j.1478-4408.2010.00247.x
  3. ^ Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum
  4. ^ [citation needed]
  5. ^ W. Clegg, G. Bourhill and I. Sage (April 2002). "Hexakis(antipyrine-O)terbium(III) triiodide at 160 K: confirmation of a centrosymmetric structure for a brilliantly triboluminescent complex". Acta Crystallographica Section E. 58 (4). Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  6. ^ Orel, V.E.; Alekseyev, S.B.; Grinevich, Yu.A. (1992), "Mechanoluminescence: an assay for lymphocyte analysis in neoplasis", Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence, 7 (4): 239–244, doi:10.1002/bio.1170070403, PMID 1442175
  7. ^ "Rockhounding Arkansas: Experiments with Quartz". Retrieved 2012-10-09.
  8. ^ Nature (journal). Sticky tape generates X-rays
  9. ^ Karasev, V. V.; Krotova, N. A.; Deryagin, B. W. (1953). "Study of electronic emission during the stripping of a layer of high polymer from glass in a vacuum". Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR (Proceedings of the USSR Academy of Sciences). 88: 777–780.
  10. ^ Camara, C. G.; Escobar, J. V.; Hird, J. R.; Putterman, S. J. (2008). "Correlation between nanosecond X-ray flashes and stick-slip friction in peeling tape". Nature. 455 (7216): 1089–1092. Bibcode:2008Natur.455.1089C. doi:10.1038/nature07378.
  11. ^ Chang, Kenneth (2008-10-23). "Scotch Tape Unleashes X-Ray Power". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Katherine Bourzac (2008-10-23). "X-Rays Made with Scotch Tape". Technology Review. Retrieved 2012-10-09.
  13. ^ Neeraj Krishna, G. (2014). "X-Ray Emission during Rubbing of Metals". Tribology in Industry. 36: 229–235.
  14. ^ "WebCite query result". Archived from the original on 2009-10-20. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  15. ^ "Science News Online - This Week - News Feature - 5/17/97". 1997-05-17. Retrieved 2012-10-09.
  16. ^ Orel, V.E. (1989), "Triboluminescence as a biological phenomenon and methods for its investigation", Book: Proceedings of the First International School Biological Luminescence: 131–147
  17. ^ Orel, V.E.; Alekseyev, S.B.; Grinevich, Yu.A. (1992), "Mechanoluminescence: an assay for lymphocyte analysis in neoplasis", Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence, 7 (4): 239–244, doi:10.1002/bio.1170070403, PMID 1442175
  18. ^ IUPAC, Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. (the "Gold Book") (1997). Online corrected version:  (2006–) "triboluminescence". doi:10.1351/goldbook.T06499
  19. ^ Note: This phenomenon can be demonstrated by removing ice from a freezer in a darkened room, under conditions in which the ice makes cracking sounds from sudden thermal expansion. If the ambient light is dim enough, flashes of white light from the cracking ice can be observed.
  20. ^ Chauhan, V.S.1 (2008), "Effects of strain rate and elevated temperature on electromagnetic radiation emission during plastic deformation and crack propagation in ASTM B 265 grade 2 titanium sheets", Journal of Materials Science, 43 (16): 5634–5643, Bibcode:2008JMatS..43.5634C, doi:10.1007/s10853-008-2590-5
  21. ^ Camara, Carlos G.; Escobar, Juan V.; Hird, Jonathan R.; Putterman, Seth J. (2008), "Correlation between nanosecond X-ray flashes and stick–slip friction in peeling tape", Nature, 455 (7216): 1089–1092, Bibcode:2008Natur.455.1089C, doi:10.1038/nature07378
  22. ^ KUMAR, Rajeev (2006), "Effect of processing parameters on the electromagnetic radiation emission during plastic deformation and crack propagation in copper-zinc alloys", Journal of Zhejiang University Science A, 7 (1): 1800–1809, doi:10.1631/jzus.2006.a1800
  23. ^ Frid, V. (2006), "Fracture induced electromagnetic radiation" (PDF), Journal of Applied Physics, 36 (13): 1620–1628, Bibcode:2003JPhD...36.1620F, doi:10.1088/0022-3727/36/13/330
  24. ^ Frid, V. (2000), "Electromagnetic radiation method water-infusion control in rockburst-prone strata", Journal of Applied Geophysics, 43 (1): 5–13, Bibcode:2000JAG....43....5F, doi:10.1016/S0926-9851(99)00029-4
  25. ^ Orel, V.E.; Romanov, A.V.; Dzyatkovskaya, N.N.; Mel’nik, Yu.I. (2002), "The device and algorithm for estimation of the mechanoemission chaos in blood of patients with gastric cancer", Medical Engineering Physics, 24 (5): 365–3671, doi:10.1016/S1350-4533(02)00022-X
  26. ^ "Triboluminescent Method and Apparatus for Determination of Material . Patent France 2 536 172 15/12/1982".
  27. ^ Orel, V.E.; Kadiuk, I.N.; Mel`nik, Yu.I.; et al. (1994), "Physical and engineering principles in the study of mechanically-induced emission of blood", Biomedical Engineering, 28 (6): 335–341, doi:10.1007/BF00559911

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit