A new facility at the National Institute of Standards and Technology is now available to ensure accurate radiation measurements in medicine and serve as a new technology testbed for industry.
The NIST Medical-Industrial Radiation Facility, or MIRF, is a national user facility for the medical and industrial radiation communities. The new facility contains a high-energy electron beam linear accelerator donated by the Radiation Therapy Center of Yale University-New Haven Hospital.
The range of electron energies available from the accelerator make the MIRF a unique facility, ideally suited for medical radiation calibration research and industrial radiation technology development.
"We want to help the medical community to verify the measurements they're making on the same type of machine," says Bert M. Coursey, leader of the NIST Radiation Interactions and Dosimetry Group.
"In a similar manner, we can assist industry in developing radiation technologies, such as polymer curing and waste water treatment," Coursey says. "We are the only federal laboratory where industry can come to develop these technologies using the appropriate accelerator."
The MIRF's primary medical application will be direct calibration standards for accelerator electron beams used in ionizing radiation treatments for cancer patients. Because NIST's previous calibration standards were based on a low single energy cobalt-60 gamma ray source, calibrations for higher energy beams used in therapy were indirect.
The MIRF accelerator can produce electron energies from 7 million to 32 million electron volts. With a wider range of higher energies, the MIRF makes direct comparison of beam energies possible and eliminates the problem of uncertainties that occur with indirect calibrations. The result is that radiation therapy centers will be able to measure photon and electron beam energies more accurately and ensure the prescribed radiation dose.
NIST scientists also are planning research projects which could improve industrial processes such as polymer curing and waste water treatment.
Lightweight composite materials developed for the aerospace industry are increasingly used in new consumer products, although curing these high performance composites usually requires a time-consuming, heat-curing step. Curing polymers with high-energy electron beams offers an alternative which could save time and money and improve quality. An experimental program at MIRF will help industry develop new methods for curing polymer-fiber composites with electron beam technology.
High-energy electron radiation also may be a new method for purifying wastewater by converting toxic chemicals to benign products and destroying disease-causing microorganisms. Additional research projects at the MIRF will attempt to develop new technologies for destroying hazardous organic pollutants in wastewater. Other candidate chemicals include explosives and chemical warfare agents.
In addition to medical and industrial radiation projects, the MIRF will be available to academic researchers. Physicists and students from Catholic University and George Washington University are setting up a beam line at MIRF to explore applications of a new kind of radiation called "channeling radiation." According to B.L. Berman of George Washington University, "Channeling radiation is produced in a crystalline material when an electron beam from the accelerator passes through it along one of the preferred directions in the crystalline lattice."
For more information on the MIRF, contact the NIST Radiation Interactions and Dosimetry Group, Radiation Physics Building, Room C229, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-0001; phone: (301) 975-5575; fax: (301) 869-7682.
As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.