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Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for shielding electronics in military and space exploration technology from ionizing radiation.
New research suggests a layer of powdered rust is a particularly effective shield when it comes to blocking dangerous cosmic radiation -- the kind that bombards astronauts and their equipment once they leave the safety of Earth’s atmosphere.
Oxidized metal, especially gadolinium (III) oxide, blocks more radiation by weight than anything else out there.
“Our approach can be used to maintain the same level of radiation shielding and reduce the weight by 30% or more, or you could maintain the same weight and improve shielding by 30% or more — compared to the most widely used shielding techniques,” NC State nuclear engineer Rob Hayes had said. “Either way, our approach reduces the volume of space taken up by shielding.”
The new technique relies on mixing oxidized metal powder – rust – into a polymer, and then incorporating it into a common conformal coating on the relevant electronics.
“Metal oxide powder offers less shielding than metal powder would, but oxides are less toxic and don’t pose electromagnetic challenges that could interfere with a device’s operation,” Hayes says.
“Radiation transport calculations show that inclusion of the metal oxide powder provides shielding comparable to a conventional shield,” says Mike DeVanzo, a former graduate student at NC State and first author on the work. “At low energies, the metal oxide powder reduces both gamma radiation to the electronics by a factor of 300 and the neutron radiation damage by 225%.”
“At the same time, the coating is less bulky than a shielding box,” Hayes says. “And in computational simulations, the worst performance of the oxide coating still absorbed 30% more radiation than a conventional shield of the same weight.
“On top of that, the oxide particulate is much less expensive than the same amount of the pure metal,” Hayes says.
“This could potentially reduce the need for conventional shielding materials on space-based electronics,” adds DeVanzo, who works at Lockheed Martin Space.
Protecting Against Exposure
Shielding: As ionizing radiation passes through matter, the intensity of the radiation is diminished. Shielding is the placement of an “absorber” between you and the radiation source. An absorber is a material that reduces radiation from the radiation source to you. Alpha, beta, or gamma radiation can all be stopped by different thicknesses of absorbers.
Shielding material can include barrels, boards, vehicles, buildings, gravel, water, lead or whatever else is immediately available.
stop-alphaα ALPHA – can be stopped after traveling through about 1.2 inches of air, about 0.008 inches of water, or a piece of paper or skin. A thin piece of paper, or even the dead cells in the outer layer of human skin, provides adequate shielding because alpha particles can’t penetrate it. However, living tissue inside the body offers no protection against inhaled or ingested alpha emitters.
βstop-beta BETA – can only be stopped after traveling through about 10 feet of air, less than 2 inches of water, or a thin layer of glass or metal. Additional covering, for example heavy clothing, is necessary to protect against beta-emitters. Some beta particles can penetrate and burn the skin.
γ GAMMA: To reduce typical gamma rays by a factor of a billion, thicknesses of stop-gammashield need to be about 13.8 feet of water, about 6.6 feet of concrete, or about 1.3 feet of lead. Thick, dense shielding is necessary to protect against gamma rays. The higher the energy of the gamma ray, the thicker the shield must be. X-rays pose a similar challenge. This is why x-ray technicians often give patients receiving medical or dental X-rays a lead apron to cover other parts of their body.
Composition of space radiation Edit
While in space, astronauts are exposed to radiation which is mostly composed of high-energy protons, helium nuclei (alpha particles), and high-atomic-number ions (HZE ions), as well as secondary radiation from nuclear reactions from spacecraft parts or tissue.
The ionization patterns in molecules, cells, tissues and the resulting biological effects are distinct from typical terrestrial radiation (x-rays and gamma rays, which are low-LET radiation). Galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) from outside the Milky Way galaxy consist mostly of highly energetic protons with a small component of HZE ions.
Prominent HZE ions:
GCR energy spectra peaks (with median energy peaks up to 1,000 MeV/amu) and nuclei (energies up to 10,000 MeV/amu) are important contributors to the dose equivalent.
...“The foil is made out of titanium, so it’d be a bit expensive if you wrapped your roast chicken in it every Sunday,” says Draper, a heatshield engineer. “But the black surface that coats the titanium is made from powdered baked animal bones.”
Just 1/20th of a millimetre thick, this animal-bone-coated titanium foil will make up the outer section of the heat shield being fitted to the European Space Agency’s (ESA) new Solar Orbiter spacecraft.
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