Brightest gamma ray on Earth -- for a safer, healthier world

Sep 19, 2011
This is professor Dino Jaroszynski of the University of Strathclyde. Credit: University of Strathclyde

The brightest gamma ray beam ever created- more than a thousand billion times more brilliant than the sun- has been produced in research led at the University of Strathclyde- and could open up new possibilities for medicine.

Physicists have discovered that ultra-short duration can interact with ionised gas to give off beams that are so intense they can pass through 20 cm of lead and would take 1.5 m of concrete to be completely absorbed.

The ray could have several uses, such as in , and radioisotope production for PET (positron ) scanning. The source could also be useful in monitoring the integrity of stored .

In addition, the laser pulses are short enough- lasting a quadrillionth of a second- to capture the response of a nucleus to stimuli, making the rays ideal for use in lab-based study of the .

The device used in the 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. Strathclyde was also joined in the research by University of Glasgow and Instituto Superior Técnico in Lisbon.

Professor 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.

"To prove this we have imaged very thin wires - 25 microns thick - with gamma rays and produced very clear images using a new method called phase-contrast imaging. This allows very weakly absorbing material to be clearly imaged. Matter illuminated by gamma rays only cast a very weak shadow and therefore are invisible. Phase-contrast imaging is the only way to render these transparent objects visible.

"It could also act as a powerful tool in medicine for cancer therapy and there is nothing else to match the duration of the gamma ray pulses, which is also why it is so bright.

"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. This enabled the gamma ray photons to outshine any other earthbound source.

"The accelerator we use is a new type called a laser-plasma wakefield accelerator which uses high power lasers and ionised gas to accelerate charged particles to very high energies - thus shrinking a conventional accelerator, which is 100m long, to one which fits in the palm of your hand."

The peak brilliance of the was measured to be greater than 1023 photons per second, per square milliradian, per square millimetre, per 0.1% bandwidth.

The research was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Laserlab-Europe Consortium and the Extreme Light Infrastructure project. It is linked to SCAPA (Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-based Accelerators), which is based at Strathclyde and is run through the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Physics.

Explore further: It's particle-hunting season! NYU scientists launch Higgs Hunters Project

Provided by University of Strathclyde

5 /5 (9 votes)

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User comments : 13

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HyperAnomaly
3.5 / 5 (8) Sep 19, 2011
"The device used in the research is smaller and less costly than more conventional sources of gamma rays, which are a form of X-rays."

Gamma rays are not a form of x-rays. Gamma rays and x-rays are different by definition; gammas are produced by nuclear energy changes whereas x-rays are created by electronic energy changes.
Mahal_Kita
3 / 5 (4) Sep 19, 2011
So.. Let's launch one in outer space and make it pulse in all directions. "Hey! Here we are. We need some assitance cleaning up the mess we made of our planet!" Or.. Something similar :-)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (13) Sep 19, 2011
Gamma rays are not a form of x-rays. Gamma rays and x-rays are different by definition; gammas are produced by nuclear energy changes whereas x-rays are created by electronic energy changes.

Both are photons - only the energies differ (gamma ray frequencies starting at about two orders of magnitude higher than x-rays).
How they are produced is not reflected in the naming scheme (other than historically). There are many mechanisms that can create x-rays or gamma rays (or both)
JRDarby
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2011
"A thousand billion" -- oh, you mean a "trillion"?
tigger
3 / 5 (4) Sep 19, 2011
"The British define a trillion as tri-million or three "million" written side by side and meaning a million million million or 1 x 10 to the 18th power." - Source: http://www.wonder...ions.htm

Silverhill
4.3 / 5 (4) Sep 19, 2011
And the British define a billion as one million millions, so we're left wondering whether the radiation is 10^12 or 10^15 "times more brilliant than the sun".

(Also, the proper phrasing is "n times *as* brilliant", not "*more* brilliant"....)
JRDarby
not rated yet Sep 19, 2011
"The British define a trillion as tri-million or three "million" written side by side and meaning a million million million or 1 x 10 to the 18th power." - Source: http://www.wonder...ions.htm



Interesting; thanks.
Decimatus
not rated yet Sep 19, 2011
Raise your hand if you would like to be "medically imaged" by the brightest gamma ray on earth.
holoman
not rated yet Sep 19, 2011
Old News.

The technology talking about has patent filed by an
American in 2008.
Cave_Man
not rated yet Sep 20, 2011
Gamma rays are not a form of x-rays. Gamma rays and x-rays are different by definition; gammas are produced by nuclear energy changes whereas x-rays are created by electronic energy changes.

Both are photons - only the energies differ (gamma ray frequencies starting at about two orders of magnitude higher than x-rays).
How they are produced is not reflected in the naming scheme (other than historically). There are many mechanisms that can create x-rays or gamma rays (or both)


And in 100k years there will be aliens showing up on our doorstep to slaughter us only to find that they are a little late to the party.
HyperAnomaly
1 / 5 (1) Sep 20, 2011
@antialias,

Yes, gammas and x-rays are both photons, and yes most physics textbooks oversimplify them as simply being different photon energies in a continuum. However, they are *defined* differently based on the method of their production, although you cannot tell the difference of one from the other once they are detected a priori. If you look into any medical physics or nuclear engineering textbook you will see this strongly emphasized. Even the mighty wikipedia agrees: "gamma rays are now usually distinguished by their origin: X-rays are emitted by definition by electrons outside the nucleus, while gamma rays are emitted by the nucleus."
Fionn
not rated yet Sep 20, 2011
Has anyone considered the military applications for this? The thing is a directional, precise, high-powered blast of ionizing radiation! It could act like a directional, explosion-free neutron bomb, delivering enemy combatants fatal doses of radiation in seconds without destroying farmland and infrastructure! It could short out computers, government, military, and civilian, disrupting vital services and infrastructure. It could even disable incoming missiles!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Sep 21, 2011
If you look into any medical physics or nuclear engineering textbook you will see this strongly emphasized.

If you go to astronomy then the distinction is merely by energy (there are a number of satellites that specifically look at the x-ray pert of the spectrum of the sky). Any radiation source hot enough produces x-rays (among other energies).

Has anyone considered the military applications for this?

It's a bit big for that, short range, limited in direction, and uses oodels of power.

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