A 4.5 million pounds project to produce bubble-sized laboratories could boost cancer treatment, medical imaging and industrial processes.
Researchers from University of Strathclyde in the UK aim to use high-powered lasers to conduct experiments in plasma bubbles so tiny that their diameters are equivalent to one tenth of a cross-section of a human hair.
Plasma forms 99.999 per cent of the matter in the universe.
“We have a clear focus on fundamental physics but strive to apply the knowledge we gain. Important applications are medical, which could have a profound impact on society and quality of life.Another important objective is to reduce the size of coherent X-ray sources from kilometres to millimetres. Current X-ray free-electron lasers are kilometres long and cost up to 1 billion Euro. We plan to make coherent X-ray sources widely available and relatively inexpensive, thus enabling many, many applications,” Professor Dino Jaroszynski, of Strathclyde’s Department of Physics, said.
“There is, of course, a large demand for improved cancer therapy in the UK. Particle therapy is currently seen as a possible route for improving treatment of certain types of cancer and the quality of life of patients – particularly young children,” Jaroszynski said.
The benefits of the project will be wide-ranging, from pure academic research to numerous new applications in medicine and industry.
Some of these applications could have a very high impact, including improvements in medical radiotherapy, nuclear fusion, and imaging of dense matter.
Professor Jaroszynski believes that, by creating the bubble-sized radiation sources and compact accelerators, his team’s research could also drive improvements in other sectors.
“Compact gamma-ray sources could have an impact on the detection of nuclear material at borders, which would contribute to enhancing global security.
“Imaging of stored nuclear waste could also have an impact on the legacy of nuclear power generation,” he said.
Co-investigators on the project include the Universities of Glasgow and St Andrews, and Lancaster University.