Can you really take an xray with Scotch tape?

Okay, so I know almost everything I see on Bones is so ludicrously far from true it ceases to be funny and just passes in one ear and out the other, even (and especially) stuff that sort of comes from something real, okay? But I’m curious about something from last week’s episode.

Shockingly, it’s gotten this far into the show before they did a blackout episode! And of course there’s a time component because, oh, never mind, it was dumb. But. They needed to xray some bones but had no power, so they set up this machine where a spindle of rolls of office tape stretched out over the bone, which was on top of xray film. They turned a crank quickly which pulled the tape off the rolls over the film, making a big static electrical visual effect, and when they pulled the film out (it looked like the kind of instant film that’s like a Polaroid that fashion photographers and such use - in cartridges, and you pull it out and it develops) voila, xray.

Plausible? And would it look like that?

Yes and no. From Wikipedia:

I’m guessing they weren’t in a vacuum, though.

Scotch tape can generate x-rays, but I have no idea if you could take an actual x-ray picture using it.

Actually, they may have been - I wasn’t paying a ton of attention but they did do it in a Plexiglass enclosure.

No, you can’t. It takes far more x-rays than Scotch tape produces to take an x-ray picture of something substantial. Do you want to sit still in a vacuum while someone unpeels tape to get a good view of your lungs?

Shit, that’s my Thursday night!

Yeah, they had set it up inside a vacuum chamber.

ETA: And it wasn’t an x-ray of a person, it was a small forensic sample, so it didn’t mind sitting still in the vacuum. :slight_smile:

Check out the video (linked to at the end of paragraph 2) included in this Nature News article from 2008. Their vacuum chamber is much more realistic (or maybe I should rephrase that as “being real, it’s much less dramatic-looking”) than the one in Bones was, of course, but it’s still pretty cool.

So for once, it was pretty much an actual thing that can actually be done! And it did look like that with the light and all.


In the original article the discoverers took x-ray shadowgraph photos of finger bones using dental x-ray film

Yes, you do need a vacuum chamber. In the electronics community we know the danger: vacuum plus high voltage (well above 10KV) usually gives x-ray hazard. Peeling tape does create extreme high voltage. That’s basically how VandeGraaf generators are able to charge their rubber belts.

From that article:

I’ve got to try this tonight!!!

When they talk about “peeling” the tape, does it simply mean taking some fresh tape off of the spool, or is it something more difficult?

Yep. Fresh tape is all it takes.

Band-aid packaging works as well. I always open them in a darkened room. (I amuse easily.)

:smack: I saw that episode and thought Brennan said “*tribal *luminescence” (being that she’s an anthropologist) and was wondering why some tribe in Africa needed x-rays.

I think of someone rubbing two trilobite fossils together myself. Rather than heat you get X rays!

How did they create the vacuum, if the power was out?

I’m sure anyone worthy of the title, King of the Lab could rig a hand cranked air pump. Personally, I’d use the intarwebson my smartphone to find a way to do it.

Not that I have any idea if this sort of thing works well enough for the tape experiment.

The version as seen on Bones is a MacGyver version. In theory you can do it. As shown it wouldnt work worth shit.

Members of African tribes don’t get broken bones sometimes?