COLUMBIA, Mo. — The hand-held scanners, or tricorders, of the Star Trek movies and television series are one step closer to reality now that a University of Missouri engineering team has invented a compact source of X-rays and other forms of radiation. The radiation source, which is the size of a stick of gum, could be used to create inexpensive and portable X-ray scanners for use by doctors, as well as to fight terrorism and aid exploration on this planet and others.
“Currently, X-ray machines are huge and require tremendous amounts of electricity,” said Scott Kovaleski, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU. “In approximately three years, we could have a prototype hand-held X-ray scanner using our invention. The cell-phone-sized device could improve medical services in remote and impoverished regions and reduce health care expenses everywhere.”
Kovaleski suggested other uses for the device. In dentists’ offices, the tiny X-ray generators could be used to take images from the inside of the mouth shooting the rays outward, reducing radiation exposure to the rest of the patients’ heads. At ports and border crossings, portable scanners could search cargoes for contraband, which would both reduce costs and improve security. Interplanetary probes, like the Curiosity rover, could be equipped with the compact sensors, which otherwise would require too much energy.
The device uses a crystal to produce more than 100,000 volts of electricity from only 10 volts of electrical input with low power consumption. Having such a low need for power could allow the crystal to be fueled by batteries. The crystal, made from a material called lithium niobate, uses the piezoelectric effect to amplify the input voltage. Piezoelectricity is the phenomenon whereby certain materials produce an electric charge when the material is under stress.
Kovaleski’s team published “Investigation of the Piezoelectric Effect as a Means to Generate X-Rays” in the journal IEEE Transaction on Plasma Science. Kovaleski is interim department chair of the Electrical & Computer Engineering in MU’s Department of Engineering. --30--
Jan. 08, 2013. Story Contact(s): Timothy Wall, firstname.lastname@example.org, 573-882-3346