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Gamma-Ray Bending Opens New Door For Optics 65

sciencehabit writes "Lenses are a part of everyday life—they help us focus on words on a page, the light from stars, and the tiniest details of microorganisms. But making a lens for highly energetic light known as gamma rays had been thought impossible. Now, physicists have created such a lens, and they believe it will open up a new field of gamma-ray optics for medical imaging, detecting illicit nuclear material, and getting rid of nuclear waste."
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Gamma-Ray Bending Opens New Door For Optics

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @05:51AM (#39939151)

    It seems the idea of focusing gamma rays isn't as new. ESA made a study on it years ago. They proposed multilayer coatings and Laue crystals.
    ESA study on gamma lens []

  • Re:Wrong superhero (Score:5, Informative)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:50AM (#39940149) Homepage

    Actually, gamma rays can be used to cure cancer rather than give you it - they are part of some radiotherapy regimes.
    When I had a month of radiotherapy many years ago, it had a kind-of reverse Hulk effect though - rather than turning green, bulking up and gaining mega-strength, I went sunburn-red, dropped 30 pounds and needed to sleep up to 16 hours a day.

  • Re:n = 1.000000001 (Score:4, Informative)

    by kebes ( 861706 ) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @10:12AM (#39940985) Journal
    I'm somewhat more hopeful than you, based on advances in x-ray optics.

    For typical x-ray photons (e.g. 10 keV), the refractive index is 0.99999 (delta [] = 1E-5). Even though this is very close to 1, we've figured out how to make practical lenses. For instance Compound Refractive Lenses [] use a sequence of refracting interfaces to accumulate the small refractive effect. Capillary optics can be used to confine x-ray beams. A Fresnel lens [] design can be used to decrease the thickness of the lens, giving you more refractive power per unit length of the total optic. In fact, you can use a Fresnel zone plate [] design, which focuses the beam due to diffraction (another variant is a Laue lens which focuses due to Bragg diffraction [], e.g. multilayer Laue lenses are now being used for ultrahigh focusing of x-rays). Clever people have even designed lenses that simultaneously exploit refractive and diffractive focusing (kinoform lenses []).

    All this to say that with some ingenuity, the rather small refractive index differences available for x-rays have been turned into decent amounts of focusing in x-ray optics. We have x-rays optics now with focal lengths on the order of meters. It's not trivial to do, but it can be done. It sounds like this present work is suggesting that for gamma-rays the refractive index differences will be on the order of 1E-7, which is only two orders-of-magnitude worse than for x-rays. So, with some additional effort and ingenuity, I could see the development of workable gamma-ray optics. I'm not saying it will be easy (we're still talking about tens or hundreds of meters for the overall camera)... but for certain demanding applications it might be worth doing.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes