It is very difficult to reflect hard X-rays and gamma rays with a mirror as they pass through most materials, but they can be diffracted by crystal planes. A so-called Laue lens uses crystals that are arranged to form a lens. However, if you use regular crystals with flat crystal planes, the focal spot will never be smaller than the dimensions of the crystals. And the production of such a lens is difficult and cumbersome.
From Athena to Laue lens
For the X-ray telescope Athena, we are developing curved mirrors that are made by bending silicon wafers, utilizing production techniques which are normally used to produce memory chips. These wafers are crystalline, but they are also bent, and therefore can focus radiation into a small spot of less than 1 mm3.
Radiation therapy for cancer patients
A possible medical application would be more accurate radiation therapy for cancer patients. Current day radiotherapy equipment uses a large number of gamma-ray sources operating at MeV energy. The Laue lens does not only focus rays, but also acts as a filter, selecting a narrow band pass of wavelength. This is key to replacing dangerous and decaying gamma-ray sources by much safer X-ray tubes. Our gamma-ray lens can enable sub-MeV radiotherapy, which has the potential to cure resilient tumors, while sparing the skin thanks to its focused beam. The radiation dose can be delivered in a small and well defined volume, causing less damage to the surrounding tissue, without production of any radioactive waste. This could be a new and very effective tool for radiation therapy, complementary to existing techniques.
We have been developing the technology and are now looking for launching customers to turn it into a product. Contact us to discuss options.