Materials that keep us safe from ionizing radiation tend to be massive, heavy, and quite toxic. But the PMMA polymer mixed with Bismuth(III) oxide that is hardened by UV radiation could change the rules of the game.
Ionizing radiation can cause a lot of damage to living organisms. So, preventing this from happening to people is quite important for several specializations including the military, nuclear energetics, nuclear medicine, and even the space industry. The problem is that the current materials we use to keep us safe from ionizing radiation are usually very heavy, massive, and in a lot of cases also quite toxic.
Bismuth Acrylic Glass
Scientists and engineers are searching for alternatives to current used protective materials. Many are looking at polymers. But not just pure polymers. They are giving them a bit of a kick by adding a few other materials. The hope is that a compact, light, relatively non-toxic, and most importantly cheap and practical material that shields people from ionizing radiation can be found this way.
A team led by Da Cao from North Carolina State University (NCSU) is working exactly on this kind of material. They are developing a material that should be much lighter, cheaper, and less damaging to the environment in comparison to your classical protective materials. It is Poly(methyl methacrylate - better known as acrylic glass or Plexiglas. This transparent polymer with the properties of thermoplastic had particles of bismuth(III) oxide added in. Then it was exposed to UV radiation. The result is a light and tough material that very effectively blocks dangerous gamma radiation.
Bismuth(III) oxide is a quite common material that is used in many industrial applications. Bismuth-209 was long considered to be a stable isotope even though math suggested it should not be. Only recently we found out that bismuth-209 going through alpha-decay. But it also has a half-life of 2 times 10 to the power of 19 or 20,000,000,000,000,000,000 years is it one of the slowest decaying naturally appearing isotopes. And its compounds are usually not toxic.
The researchers say that making this material by using UV radiation is easier than other similar materials which usually require high temperatures. The hardened PMMA polymer with bismuth(III) oxide can be made in just a few minutes at room temperature. Other polymers with similar properties use thermal polymerization which requires high-temperatures for hours or even days.
The new material should find wide use because of its low price, quick and accessible production, and valuable properties.
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