A new gamma beam that could save people’s lives has been developed through research lead by Strathclyde University.
The new ray, which is more than a thousand times more brilliant than the Sun, could be used for medical imaging, radiotherapy, and radioisotope production for PET (positron emission tomography scanning). The source could also be used in measuring the integrity of stored nuclear waste.
Prof Dino Jaroszynski of Strathclyde, who led the research, said: ‘This is a great breakthrough, which could make the probing of very dense matter easier and more extensive, and so allow us to monitor nuclear fusion capsules imploding.
‘In nature, if you accelerate charged particles, such as electrons, they radiate. We trapped particles in a cavity of ions trailing an intense laser pulse and accelerated these to high energies. Electrons in this cavity also interact with the laser and pick up energy from it and oscillate wildly — much like a child being pushed on a swing. The large swinging motion and the high energy of the electrons allow a huge increase in the photon energy to produce gamma rays.’
When the ultra-short duration laser pulses interact with ionised gas, the beams produced are so intense they can pass through 20cm of lead and would require 1.5m of concrete to be completely absorbed.
The device used in the new research is smaller and less costly than more conventional sources of gamma rays, which are a form of x-rays.
The experiments were carried out on the Gemini laser in the Central Laser Facility at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
Glasgow University and Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon also contributed to the research.