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X-rays and light from diffuse mechanical energy

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Triboelectrification is the amazing process whereby surfaces acquire large charge densities as a result of being brought into contact or fractured. The phenomenon is considered a hazard in many industrial situations since electric fields of 1 MV cm-1 can be realised simply by bringing two surfaces in-and-out of contact. There is no ab initio theory of triboelectrification, yet an Edisonian approach to the subject has yielded useful devices such as those for xerography. For hazard mitigation, a list of materials known as the triboelectric series serves as a useful engineering benchmark to determine material compatibility, but the charge entity responsible for the process–be it an ion or electron–is still disputed. We have discovered that if triboelectrification is carried out in a moderate vacuum environment X-rays are produced with sufficient flux and energy to image a human digit in a few seconds. In this talk, I will introduce the subject of triboelectrification, describe how the emitted X-rays may give insight into the processes that cause electrical charging and will discuss potential applications and uses of this intriguing phenomenon.

This talk is part of the Surfaces, Microstructure and Fracture Group series.

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