The University of Southampton

Using lasers for new medical, industrial and security applications

Published: 29 March 2007

Researchers in ECS led by Dr Michael Kraft are involved in research that aims to develop new radiation sources suitable for the treatment of cancers and thedetection of hidden explosives.

The £4.5 million Basic Technology research project funded by Research Councils UK (RCUK) aims to exploit properties of laser-irradiated matter so that new radiation sources with diverse medical, industrial and security applications can be developed.

The radiation that is emitted is in the form of beams of ions, protons, neutrons, electrons, gamma and x-rays, depending on the energy and duration of the laser and the material being irradiated.

Dr Michael Kraft at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) will work on developing a mechanism to inject the targets into the laser chamber at high repeat intervals.

‘We will work on novel injection systems exploiting electrostatic levitation based on advanced MEMS technology,’ he said. ‘This is effectively a ‘MEMS gun’ where small particles are levitated and propelled by using electrostatic forces. This can be used in combination with optical trapping techniques developed by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, one of our consortium partners.’ Of the possible radiation beams that can be produced, the researchers have identified protons, ions, and gamma rays specifically as the products of laser-energised sources with the greatest potential. They envisage a wide range of applications for such ion beams.

For instance, laser-energised bursts of proton and light ions have the potential to substantially reduce the high equipment costs of proton and ion radiotherapy of cancer, which have so far precluded their routine use in the treatment of cancers in the UK. Compared to the use of X-rays, ion beam therapy promises more effective cancer control and improved quality of life in cancer patients.

Other applications lie in science and industry where ions may be useful in engineering diagnostics and quality control of semiconductor electronics devices.

Radiation beams could also have applications in security. A penetrating beam could be used in rapid imaging detection of hidden materials and explosives in large packages and freight containers using gamma-ray tomography to give better resolution and clarity than is currently possible.

The project is being carried out by researchers at the University of Southampton Queen's University Belfast, Central Laser Facility at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Imperial College London, and the Universities of Surrey, Birmingham, Paisley, and Strathclyde and the National Physical Laboratory

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