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New Polymer Could Replace Toxic Radiation Shielding

A compound developed by researchers at NC State could replace the more expensive and toxic lead gown typically used by patients.

3 Min Read
New Polymer Could Replace Toxic Radiation Shielding

Anyone who has ever had an X-ray done knows that lead has been the material of choice to shield people against radiation, typically in the form of a lead gown worn by the patient. Now, researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have found a less expensive and less toxic material they think can work in place of lead.


Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a polymer compound that could replace lead gowns like these that are currently used for radiation-shielding. (Image source: Ted Eylan, Wikipedia Commons)

A team led by Ge Yang, an NC State assistant professor of nuclear engineering, developed a polymer compound embedded with bismuth trioxide particles that holds potential as a radiation-shielding material, he told Design News.

He said the team sought to find new materials because traditional shielding materials are costly, heavy, and often toxic to human beings, as well as the environment.

“Thus, it is necessary to develop new radiation shielding materials that can attenuate gamma rays while mitigating the disadvantages of traditional shielding materials,” Yang told us.

Researchers created the new lightweight and cost-effective polymer compound out of poly (methyl methacrylate) (PMMA) composites by mixing bismuth trioxide into the PMMA polymer, Yang said.

“Since the bismuth trioxide has a high-efficient atomic number and PMMA material is light and cost-effective, the composites possess the advantage of good gamma-ray attenuation ability and low cost,” he told Design News.

Effective in Use and Fabrication

The material’s mechanical hardness also increased the more bismuth trioxide was added to the mix, indicating “that this material has excellent mechanical and shielding properties towards gamma radiation shielding,” Yang added.

To keep the cost of manufacturing the material low as well as bolstering fabrication efficiency, the team used curing method that relies on ultraviolet (UV) light instead of the usual time-consuming high-temperature techniques, he said.

“We applied the fast UV-curing technique as the fabricate method, by which these materials were produced within several minutes, as opposed to a few hours or days for thermal polymerization,” Yang told us.

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nuclear Engineering and Technology.

Yang said the team’s work is foundational for the future development of new radiation-shielding materials for medical imaging, radiation therapy, and space exploration.

The team plans to continue to optimize fabrication processes for the material and test its deployment in various applications, he added.

“We are working to further optimize this technique to get the best performance from the material,” Yang said.


Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.


About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano

Elizabeth Montalbano has been a professional journalist covering the telecommunications, technology and business sectors since 1998. Prior to her work at Design News, she has previously written news, features and opinion articles for Phone+, CRN (now ChannelWeb), the IDG News Service, Informationweek and CNNMoney, among other publications. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she also has lived and worked in Phoenix, Arizona; San Francisco and New York City. She currently resides in Lagos, Portugal. Montalbano has a bachelor's degree in English/Communications from De Sales University and a master's degree from Arizona State University in creative writing.

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