Radiation source could lead to more compact X-ray scanners

A Missouri University engineering team has invented a compact source of X-rays and other forms of radiation — a development that could lead to smaller handheld X-ray scanners.

The radiation source could reportedly be used to create inexpensive and portable X-ray scanners for use by doctors, as well as to fight terrorism and aid exploration on Earth and beyond.

‘Currently, X-ray machines are huge and require tremendous amounts of electricity,’ said Scott Kovaleski, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the university. ‘In approximately three years, we could have a prototype handheld X-ray scanner using our invention. The cell-phone-sized device could improve medical services in remote and impoverished regions and reduce healthcare expenses everywhere.’

In a statement, Kovaleski suggested that the device could be employed in dentists’ offices as the X-ray generators could be used to take images from the inside of the mouth by directing the rays outwards, reducing radiation exposure to the patient.

Furthermore, portable scanners could search cargoes for contraband at ports and border crossings, and interplanetary probes, such as the Curiosity rover, could be equipped with the compact sensors that would otherwise require too much energy.

It is further claimed that Kovaleski’s invention could replace radio-isotopes with a safer source of radiation that could be turned off in case of emergency.

‘Our device is perfectly harmless until energised, and even then it causes relatively low exposures of radiation,’ said Kovaleski. ‘We have never really had the ability to design devices around a radio-isotope with an on-off switch. The potential for innovation is very exciting.’

The device is said to use a crystal to produce more than 100,000V of electricity from 10V of electrical input with low power consumption.

The low power demand could allow the crystal to be fuelled by batteries. The crystal, made from lithium niobate, uses the piezoelectric effect to amplify the input voltage.

Kovaleski’s team published ‘Investigation of the piezoelectric effect as a means to generate X-rays’ in the journal IEEE Transaction on Plasma Science.