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Glass: a high-tech future for an old material

The term "glasses" traditionally conjures up thoughts of spectacles, windows or drink containers, but a team of Victoria University and Industrial Research Limited scientists have discovered important new ways that glass can be used.

High-tech glass compositions suitable for radiation imaging, including imaging screens to replace traditional hospital X-ray film, are being investigated by the research team.

Working in collaboration with Paderborn University (Germany) and Monash University (Melbourne), the Victoria/IRL team have discovered a range of glass compositions which are radiation sensitive, and can be used in the form of plates to store shadow images, such as those of bone structures in medical X-ray radiography.

Dr Andy Edgar, Senior Lecturer in Victoria University's School of Chemical and Physical Sciences says solid state imaging plates are already replacing photographic film in some X-ray imaging facilities, including Wellington's Wakefield Hospital. While the crystalline solid state powders used in these plates have many advantages over photographic film, he says they have one big disadvantage: their powdered nature
degrades the detailed structure in the images.

However, the team has discovered rival glass compositions which are both radiation-sensitive and which have the potential to overcome this problem by virtue of their optical clarity.

Edgar says the glass compositions discovered by the Victoria/IRL team are particularly interesting because they're actually glass-ceramic composites as clear as ordinary glass.

While 'low-tech' glass compositions such as those used in windows have been put to good use for many centuries, Edgar says there are now many new materials that can be made in glass or glass-ceramic form with important applications. The classic example of a high-tech glass is ultra-pure silica, glassy quartz, which in the form of fibre-optic bundles is the basis for today's information superhighway.

The research programme is supported by grants from the New Economy Research Fund, and has the long-term aim of providing a technology platform which could be used in New Zealand for the manufacture of imaging plates, or as the basis for licensing the process to overseas manufacturers.

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