Cross-border research for highly innovative X-ray solutions
In research project Smart*Light a compact and movable source of very bright X-rays with adjustable wavelength is developed, a 'table top synchrotron'. A consortium of 12 organizations in the Netherlands and Flanders will receive a subsidy of 2.85 million euros from the European Regional Development Fund (Interreg Vlaanderen-Nederland) for this purpose. Smart*Light can ultimately be used in clinical applications for medical diagnostics, in research laboratories for the development of new materials and in museums to investigate important works of art.
To screen a person for breast cancer, to inspect welding seams in pipelines and to view the chemical condition of artworks. This usually happens with the same 'classic' X-ray technology, developed in the 19th century. This X-ray radiation, however, has a rather low intensity and is virtually unchangeable, so that only a snapshot can be taken and the information is often not sufficiently detailed. For more advanced applications, such as the development of high-tech materials and new medicines, 'coherent' high-intensity X-rays are now indispensable. However, this radiation is currently only produced in synchrotrons, large accelerators in which electrons move with almost the speed of light in a km-long tube. With this synchrotron radiation changes in materials and fabrics can be followed in detail in time and space. The limited availability of high-energy synchrotron radiation imposes considerable limitations on the measurement conditions. For various applications, traveling to a synchrotron (all outside the Benelux) is even unfeasible.
Collisions between laser and electrons
Smart*Light uses new accelerator technology to convert laser light into intense and coherent X-rays by making them collide (via 'inverse Compton scattering') with a high energy beam of electrons. With this radiation state-of-the-art analyses can then be carried out that are of value for various social sectors. Although Smart*Light does not aim to replace existing synchrotron facilities, it will be an important addition to these facilities, thanks to the compact design. Users will therefore be less dependent on the scarce measurement time at large synchrotrons.
Material research and hidden layers in paintings
Especially the mobile character is an important advantage: the entire set-up will be less than four meters long and can therefore be used in any lab at will. For example, the instrument can be added on to a specific complex measurement set-up instead of the other way around. The relationship between process conditions, microstructure and material properties can thus be more effectively investigated. This simplifies the development of new materials, so that for example fatigue and corrosion in ships can be better counteracted, or the applicability of 3D-printed materials can be increased. In the long term, Smart*Light offers unique possibilities for medical diagnostics in hospitals and for research into top artworks by, among others, Rubens, Vermeer and Brueghel in museums. For example, the ability to analyze the chemical composition of artworks layer by layer is not only important for the preservation of art but also for authenticity research.
The project involves intensive collaboration between universities, companies, museums and research institutes from different specialties. The X-ray source is being built at Eindhoven University of Technology, and the universities of Antwerp and Ghent are developing the matching detection techniques such as X-ray diffraction, fluorescence and tomography. The involvement of TU Delft focuses in particular on the functionality of the instrument for material and art research. Other members are: VDL ETG BV, Agfa Healthcare, Erasmus MC, Stichting tot Beheer Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, TI-COAST, XRE NV, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, and Stichting Materials Innovation Institute. TU Delft (MSE department at the 3ME faculty) is the coordinator of Smart*Light.
Interreg Vlaanderen-Nederland subsidizes cooperation projects for smart, green and inclusive growth. The cross-border nature of an Interreg project is essential: intensive cooperation takes place between partners on both sides of the border, with all partners providing additional funding. Interreg is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Read more on the Interreg website.