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Imagine the Universe! Applications of High-Energy Astrophysics - Introduction

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What High-Energy Astrophysics has done for YOU!

Example 1

A small, light-weight X-ray imaging system

Scientists and engineers realize that an instrument which creates images from the low-intensity X-rays we detect in space could have important applications in health care. For example, it would allow taking medical X-rays using safer low-intensity radiation. And the small size required for instruments originally built to be wedged into spacecraft would allow the instrument to be transported easily from place to place.

Acting on these ideas, Goddard Space Flight Center developed the Low-Intensity X-ray Imaging Scope (LIXISCOPE). Marketed by HealthMate, Inc. as the commercial product "FluoroScan", it can be taken out to a sporting event or accident site to provide emergency diagnostic X-rays. It can be used safely without the lead walls, special aprons, and film badges we see in hospitals and doctors' offices. It is useful in examining newborn babies without having to expose them to high levels of X-rays. And, lastly, it can be operated in "real-time", for example during surgery to set pins in broken bones, allowing continuous monitoring.

A division of HealthMate called National Imaging Systems took the same technology and tailored it to industrial use, calling it "Inner View". Inner View provides a low cost and safe way to do product inspection, non-destructive testing, and security checks of cartons and luggage.

Example 2

3-D Gamma-ray Imaging

Radiation Technologies, Inc., was founded to build 3-D radioactive imaging systems based on radiation imaging concepts first developed for nuclear astrophysics. The COMPTEL instrument aboard NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory was designed to image astrophysical gamma-ray sources in 2-D. In the process of considering an updated design for a gamma-ray imager, the Radiation Technologies team discovered that modifications of the imaging techniques used by COMPTEL could actually be used to produce 3-D, high-resolution images of nearby (as opposed to cosmic) gamma-ray sources.

Collaborating with scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., a series of experiments was performed to prove that the 3-D imaging technique would actually work in the laboratory. Subsequently, a study (using computer simulations) was made to design a system to identify and locate nuclear radiation sources inside of a closed container without opening it. A more recent study showed the usefulness of this technique for locating the interaction site in a treatment for brain cancer.

A prototype instrument to demonstrate the capabilities of this imaging technique in the treatment of brain (and other) cancer is now being built. Other medical imaging possibilities also exist.

Example 3

A revolutionary X-ray device

NASA and the National Institutes of Health have signed an agreement to facilitate the development of new X-ray technology with the potential to improve scientific research and enhance people's quality of life through better medical imaging instruments. The agreement will be effective until 30 September 1999.

The collaborative research agreement takes new X-ray technology recently developed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, X-Ray Optical Systems, Inc., Albany, NY, and the Center of X-Ray Optics of the State University of New York at Albany and enhances its imaging capabilities for a variety of commercial uses.

The NASA-developed X-ray technology is capable of generating beams that are more than 100 times the intensity of conventional X-ray generators. At the heart of the NASA technology is a new type of optics for X-rays called Capillary Optics. The X-rays can be controlled by reflecting them through tens of thousands of tiny curved channels or capillaries, similar to the way light is directed through fiber optics. The high-intensity beams will permit scientific and medical research to be performed in less time with higher accuracy and could permit the use of smaller, lower-cost and safer X-ray sources.

A primary use of the new technology is in research leading to the development of new disease-fighting drugs. "Once developed, the X-ray device will enhance a researcher's ability to determine difficult protein structures at a faster pace, which is critical to new drug design," said Dr. Dan Carter of Marshall's Laboratory for Structural Biology.

Other expected applications in scientific research and medicine include better manufacturing control for semiconductor circuits and better medical imaging, such as in mammography and improved forensics.


A service of the High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC), Dr. Alan Smale (Director), within the Astrophysics Science Division (ASD) at NASA/GSFC

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