Smart*Light: the development of a table model for X-ray analysis
VDL ETG is a participant in the Smart *Light project. This project involves 12 organizations in the Netherlands and Flanders working together to develop a compact instrument that produces intense, coherent X-ray radiation. This ‘table model synchrotron’ offers the unique possibility to perform advanced analyses on location. X-ray analysis is of great importance for medical diagnostics, in research laboratories for the development of new materials and in museums to investigate important works of art.
The expertise VDL ETG has developed for the manufacture of precision accelerator components is being put to good use in this project. The company is also involved in the engineering process, to ensure that the prototype is produced in such a way that a seamless transition to series production will be possible at a later stage.
Screening a person for breast cancer, inspecting welds in pipelines, examining the chemical condition of artworks – all of these are usually done with the same traditional X-ray technology that was developed in the 19th century. Yet this X-ray radiation has a relatively low intensity, and the X-ray energy is virtually non-adjustable. As such it is only possible to take a snapshot with a very slow shutter speed, and the information is often insufficiently detailed.
For more advanced applications, such as the development of high-tech materials and new medicines, high-intensity coherent X-ray radiation has become indispensable. This radiation is currently only produced in ‘synchrotrons’. These are large accelerators in which electrons are propelled along a circular path, hundreds of metres long, at nearly the speed of light. With synchrotron radiation, changes in materials and tissues can be followed in detail, in time and space. However, the limited availability synchrotron radiation, particularly at higher energies, imposes considerable limitations on the measurement conditions. For some applications, travel to a synchrotron (all of which are located outside the Benelux) is not even feasible.
Collisions between laser beams and electrons: new accelerator technology
Smart*Light uses new accelerator technology to convert laser beams into intense, coherent X-rays by having them collide with high-energy beam electrons through inverse Compton scattering. This radiation can then be used to conduct state-of-the-art analyses that are valuable for various sectors of society. Although Smart*Light is not designed to replace existing synchrotron facilities, the compact design makes it an important complementary alternative. Users are therefore less dependent on the scarce measurement time available at large synchrotrons.
The mobile nature of the device, in particular, is an important advantage: the entire apparatus is just a few meters long and is therefore suitable for use in any lab. For example, the instrument can be placed in a specific complex measurement arrangement, rather than vice versa. The relationship between process conditions, microstructure and material properties can therefore be investigated more effectively. This simplifies the development of new materials so that, for example, fatigue and corrosion of ships can be better combated, or the range of uses of 3D printed materials can be broadened. In the long term, Smart*Light offers unique possibilities for medical diagnostics in hospitals and for research into top works of art from painters such as Rubens, Vermeer and Breughel at museums. The possibility of analysing the chemical composition of works of art layer by layer is not only important for the conservation of art but for purposes such as authenticity research.
The project involves intensive collaboration among specialists in various fields who work for universities, companies, museums and research institutes. Eindhoven University of Technology is working on the construction of the X-ray source. The universities of Antwerp and Ghent are developing the associated detection techniques, such as X-ray diffraction, fluorescence and tomography. Delft University of Technology is mainly involved in the functionality of the instrument for material and art research. Also involved are: VDL ETG, Agfa Healthcare, Erasmus MC, Stichting tot Beheer Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, TI-COAST, XRE NV, Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and Stichting Materials Innovation Institute. Delft University of Technology (MSE department in the faculty of 3ME) is overall coordinator of Smart*Light.
The project is funded, in part, by a €2.85 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund (Interreg Flanders-Netherlands). Interreg Vlaanders-Netherlands subsidizes collaborative projects for smart, green, 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 financed through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Read more on the Interreg website.