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Will the future hold compact, tunable X-ray devices made of graphene?

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | November 24, 2015
Medical Devices X-Ray
The technology that’s most commonly used to produce X-rays has essentially stayed the same for over a century, but new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may change that in the near future. The research was published recently in the journal Nature Photonics.

The research found that a sheet of graphene, which is a 2-D form of pure carbon, can be used to produce surface waves called plasmons when the sheet is struck by photons from a laser beam. Those plasmons can then be activated to produce a sharp pulse of radiation, tuned to wavelengths anywhere from infrared light to X-rays.

Since the radiation generated by the system would be a uniform wavelength and closely aligned, similar to a laser beam, it may allow for lower-dose X-ray systems in the future.
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There is much interest in developing new approaches to generating sources of light, especially at scales that can be incorporated into microchips or that could reduce the size and cost of the high-intensity beams that are used for basic scientific and biomedical research.

Out of all of the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that are usually used for applications, coherent X-rays are the most difficult to create and they also have the highest energy. The new system may be able to create ultraviolet light sources on a chip and table-top X-ray device that can generate the types of beams that only high-end particle accelerators can now.

This is a unique approach because it is producing X-rays from low-energy electrons. Every other approach involves accelerating the electrons.

This new concept may allow for more accurate pinpointing of medical and dental X-rays, which can potentially reduce the radiation dose administered to the patient. It may also have applications in crystallography, which is used to determine the exact atomic structure of molecules.

However, the concept is still theoretical and based on precise simulations. The researchers at MIT are currently working on creating a device to test the system in the lab and they will start by producing ultraviolet sources and working up to the higher-energy X-rays.

The researchers are hoping to have confirmation of the principles in a year, and if that goes well, X-rays within three years. But since this is a new technology and unexpected issues may arise, the researchers admit that it may never happen.

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