Triboluminescence: Light it up

Fig. 1. Triboluminescence of Nicotine-L salicylate

The term Triboluminescence comes from the Greek τρίβειν (“to rub”; see tribology) and the Latin lumen (light). Triboluminescence is a flash of light produced when a material is subjected to friction, impact or breakage or in plane words can be understood as when the material is crushed, ripped, scratched, or rubbed. Triboluminescence is also known as fractoluminescence, mechanoluminescence and crystalloluminescence. [1][2][3][4][5]

Triboluminescent minerals

A triboluminescent mineral is a mineral that exhibits this type of behavior. Triboluminescence is present in quartz, sphalerite, fluorite, calcite, muscovite, and many feldspar minerals. Some specimens of common opal produce a bright orange flash. [1][2][3][4][5]

Triboluminescence applications

Triboluminescence finds its use preliminary in civil engineering. Composites can be embedded with triboluminescence materials and can be applied on or used in initial manufacturing of bridges and railway tracks. [1][2][3][4][5]

Triboluminescence limitations

The light produced by triboluminescence is very faint because most of the light emitted is in the ultraviolet spectrum (wavelengths < 380nm), and only a small fraction is in the visible spectrum. Research work has to be carried out on how to increase the brightness of the emitted light so that cameras can easily detect and record the light. [1][2][3][4][5]

See a video evidence of this effect in this YouTube video:


  1. Frontenot, Ross S., Md Abu S. Shohag, and Okenwa O.I. Okoli. “Chapter 1: Introduction to Triboluminescence.” Triboluminescence Theory, Synthesis, and Application. By David O. Olawale. Springer Verlag, 2016. 1-16
  2.  Triboluminescence,
  3. King, Hobart. “Triboluminescence.” Triboluminesence in Minerals. Web. 18 Jan. 2017
  4. Crystals and luminescence, Vikram Singh 8R,
  5. Olivia Graeve, This University of California, San Diego professor explains the triboluminescence phenomenon and speculates on its underlying causes, TLT Magazine – An STLE Publication, February 2017



Harshvardhan Singh is an Automotive Engineer and has good experience in lubrication science and experimental tribology. He loves to write about tribology and related fields such as coating technology, surface engineering and others.

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