MU researchers develop super compact x-ray source

Engineers at the University of Missouri (MU), Columbia, have invented a compact source of x-rays and other forms of radiation that could be used to create portable x-ray scanners.

The radiation source is the size of a stick of gum and a prototype handheld x-ray scanner using the source could be manufactured in approximately three years, according to Scott Kovaleski, PhD, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at MU. “The cell-phone-sized device could improve medical services in remote and impoverished regions and reduce healthcare expenses everywhere," Kovaleski said in a press release.

Kovaleski said the source of radiation can be turned off as safety dictates, and causes relatively low exposures of radiation even when energized. Crystals, made from lithium niobate, are used to produce more than 100,000 volts of electricity from 10 volts of electrical input with low power consumption that could allow the device to be fueled by batteries, according to the university.

In addition to medical applications, Kovaleski suggested the device could be used in dentists’ offices to take images where x-rays are shot outward from inside the mouth, reducing radiation exposure to patients’ heads.