Study: Human Hands Emit Light
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Sept. 6, 2005 — Human hands glow, but fingernails release the
most light, according to a recent study that found all parts of the
hand emit detectable levels of light.
The findings support prior research that suggested most living
things, including plants, release light. Since disease and illness
appear to affect the strength and pattern of the glow, the discovery
might lead to less-invasive ways of diagnosing patients.
Mitsuo Hiramatsu, a scientist at the Central Research Laboratory
at Hamamatsu Photonics in Japan, who led the research, told
Discovery News that the hands are not the only parts of the body
that shine light by releasing photons, or tiny, energized increments
"Not only the hands, but also the forehead and bottoms of our
feet emit photons," Hiramatsu said, and added that in terms of hands
"the presence of photons means that our hands are producing light
all of the time."
The light is invisible to the naked eye, so Hiramatsu and his
team used a powerful photon counter to "see"it.
The detector found that fingernails release 60 photons, fingers
release 40 and the palms are the dimmest of all, with 20 photons
The findings are published in the current Journal of
Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology.
Hiramatsu is not certain why fingernails light up more than the
other parts of the hand, but he said, "It may be because of the
optical window property of fingernails," meaning that the fingernail
works somewhat like a prism to scatter light.
To find out what might be creating the light in the first place,
he and colleague Kimitsugu Nakamura had test subjects hold plastic
bottles full of hot or cold water before their hand photons were
measured. The researchers also pumped nitrogen or oxygen gas into
the dark box where the individuals placed their hands as they were
Warm temperatures increased the release of photons, as did the
introduction of oxygen. Rubbing mineral oil over the hands also
heightened light levels.
Based on those results, the scientists theorize the light "is a
kind of chemiluminescence," a luminescence based on chemical
reactions, such as those that make fireflies glow. The researchers
believe 40 percent of the light results from the chemical reaction
that constantly occurs as our hand skin reacts with oxygen.
Since mineral oil, which permeates into the skin, heightens the
light, they also now think 60 percent of the glow may result from
chemical reactions that take place inside the skin.
Fritz-Albert Popp, a leading world expert on biologically related
photons at The International Institute of Biophysics in Germany,
agrees with the findings and was not surprised by them.
Popp told Discovery News, "One may find clear correlations to
kind and degree (type and severity) of diseases."
Popp and his team believe the light from the forehead and the
hands pulses out with the same basic rhythms, but that these pulses
become irregular in unhealthy people. A study he conducted on a
muscular sclerosis patient seemed to validate the theory.
Both he and Hiramatsu hope future studies will reveal more about
human photon emissions, which could lead to medical diagnosis