Photonic radiation sensors survive huge doses undamaged

Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have published landmark test results that suggest a promising class of sensors can be used in high-radiation environments and to advance important medical, industrial and research applications.

Photonic sensors convey information with light instead of electric currents in wires. They can measure, transmit and manipulate streams of photons, typically through optical fibers, and are used to gauge pressure, temperature, distance, magnetic fields, environmental conditions and more.

They are attractive because of their small size, low power consumption and tolerance of environmental variables such as mechanical vibration. But the general consensus has been that high levels of radiation would modify the optical properties of their silicon, leading to incorrect readings.

So NIST, long a world leader in many areas of photonics research, launched a program to answer those questions. The test results indicate the sensors could be customized for measuring radiation dose in both industrial applications and clinical radiotherapy. The results of its first round of testing is reported in Nature Scientific Reports.

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