Researchers from North Carolina State University in the US have developed a new technique that turns smartphones and other electronic devices into radiation detectors.
According to the group, the technique could be used to triage medical cases in the event of a radiological disaster and offers a far more rapid solution than conventional approaches to testing.
The approach relies on testing crystalline insulators found in everything from thumb drives to smartphones. During use, the insulator is removed from its electronic device and cleaned. The sample is then placed in a thermally stimulated luminescence reader, which collects spectra relating to the number of electrons found in the flaws inherent to the sample’s crystalline structure. That spectral data is then fed into a custom algorithm that calculates the sample’s radiation exposure.
Because the technique is high-throughput, accurate and precise, it can adequately assess an individual’s exposure in about an hour, said Robert Hayes, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at NC State. Prior methods can take weeks.
“Given that health providers have a one- to two-week window to start treating victims of acute radiation syndrome, the technique should be sufficient to identify which patients require the necessary care,” Hayes said. “It could not only identify individual cases of acute radiation syndrome, but also help authorities determine which geographic areas received the most radiation.
“This technique requires specialised equipment and expertise, so it’s not something most locales would have on hand,” added Hayes. “But labs like mine could run the tests and provide the authorities with good data very quickly.”
A paper on the research titled “Retrospective dosimetry at the natural background level with commercial surface mount resistors,” is published in the journal Radiation Measurements.