What happens at the quantum level when I tear apart a piece of paper?

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What happens at the quantum level when I tear apart a  piece of paper??


Offline evan_au

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Paper is held together by electrostatic forces between the molecules of the paper. The paper is made from cellulose; primarily hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Sometimes fillers like calcium carbonate or clay (an aluminium silicate) are added to improve the texture.

The inner electrons, and the nucleus are largely shielded from what is happening at molecular level by the outer electrons, so within the atom, not much is happening.

The outer electrons experience Van Der Waals attraction to nearby molecules, and are disturbed as the paper is torn apart. There is excitation of electrons, and an increase in temperature due to the energy put into tearing these bonds.

In some hard materials, mechanical tearing can result in emission of visible light, or generation of electric charges (and even X-rays), but I suspect that the energies involved in tearing paper are too feeble to produce these more exotic quantum effects.