Researchers have developed a new technique that assesses radiation exposure in about an hour using an insulator material found in most modern electronics. The technique can be used to triage medical cases in the event of a radiological disaster.
The approach relies on testing crystalline insulators found in everything from thumb drives to smartphones. Because the technique is high-throughput, accurate, and precise, it can adequately assess an individual’s exposure in about an hour. Prior methods can take weeks. Healthcare providers have a one-to two-week window to start treating victims of acute radiation syndrome; the technique should be sufficient to identify which patients require the necessary care. It could not only identify individual cases of acute radiation syndrome, but also help authorities determine which geographic areas received the most radiation.
The technique requires the insulator to be removed from its electronic device and cleaned. The sample is then placed in a thermally stimulated luminescence reader that collects spectra relating to the number of electrons found in the flaws inherent to the sample’s crystalline structure. That spectral data is then fed into a custom algorithm that calculates the sample’s radiation exposure.
This technique requires specialized equipment and expertise, so it is not something most locales would have on hand. But labs could run the tests and provide the authorities with good data very quickly.