Smart X-ray Source

Mark Eaton
Austin, TX

“This recognition is most welcome, since the NASA Tech Briefs readership includes potential users of our technology. The smart x-ray source is a true platform technology with many applications, the latest being a digitally addressable research irradiator we believe will greatly increase productivity in radio biology and radio chemistry. We look forward to hearing from Tech Briefs readers about other ideas they might have for this versatile new tool.”
Since the discovery of x-rays 110 years ago, affordable x-ray sources have all been point source x-ray tubes in which x-rays are generated at a single spot on an anode by a single electron beam accelerated at high voltage across a vacuum gap. Generation of x-rays from a single spot, even in rotating anode tubes, limits the flux they can deliver, because most of the e-beam energy will be absorbed in that spot.

The Smart X-ray Source combines flat-panel display technology with classical x-ray physics for a new kind of flat-panel x-ray source. “Smart” means the source has a large array of x-ray spots that can be electronically addressed in whatever sequence, intensity, and pattern is programmed into the control computer. The spots are generated using e-beams from a cold cathode array formed on one side of the panel, which is mainly made of glass. The opposite side, however, is a flat metal anode, where the x-rays are generated, and this has one side facing in to the vacuum and one side facing out, where it can be directly cooled. This source, in addition to being programmable, fast, and compact, can also handle the high power loads needed in medical and other applications. Several versions of the Smart Source were made using various cold cathodes, and the best cathode for this application is a proprietary “triple point” emitter made of metal and diamond-like carbon.

In CT and medical imaging, this means the system can be made using one or more smart source panels curved together, with no mechanical gantry, opposite a flat-panel x-ray detector array. The impact of the technology will be in democratizing the best medical radiography by providing portable, inexpensive CT systems using open software sources to underserved populations around the world.

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Honorable Mentions

Method for Treating Cartilage Defects

Michael Lytinas, Ideas Foundation, Boston, MA

This is a method for treating cartilage defects in osteoarthritis and cartilage injuries by moving ions into a collagen matrix of the defective cartilage using electricity. Human joint surfaces are covered by articular cartilage, a low-friction, durable material that distributes mechanical forces and protects the underlying bone. Damaged articular cartilage does not heal. The current osteoarthritis therapeutic regiment includes drugs for pain, injections of hyaluronic acid or other lubricant substances inside the joint, or surgery. This technology consists of a probe that contains a solution with free ions that touches the defective cartilage part. By applying electricity, the ions move from the solution into the cartilage, replenishing it with fresh ions and restoring its function.

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Portable, Automated Sickle Cell Disease Diagnosis and Patient Monitoring Using Magnetic Levitation

Stephanie Knowlton, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT

This portable, economical, user-friendly device diagnoses sickle cell disease in lowresource settings with no external energy source, equipment, or specific labels or antibodies. About 300,000 children are born with sickle cell anemia every year and, if left undiagnosed, can lead to “silent” strokes and other serious complications. This approach is based on magnetic levitation that enables real-time interrogation and monitoring of the biological activity of red blood cells based on subtle changes in their magnetic signature and density. The test requires only a drop of blood obtained via finger stick. Images of levitating cells are captured using a smartphone camera and analyzed by an app to identify sickle cells, which have a higher density and levitate at a lower height than healthy cells.

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NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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