. Scientific Frontline: Scientists Have Figured Out How to Use Silicone to Protect against Radiation

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Scientists Have Figured Out How to Use Silicone to Protect against Radiation

Scientists plan to investigate a broader set of materials that can attenuate radiation.
Photo Credit: Anastasia Farafontova

An international team of scientists has developed a material that can be used in the future as radiation protection against gamma radiation, in particular, it can be used to create radiation protection for Nuclear Power Station workers. The new material is based on silicone using zinc oxide nano powder additions. The results of research on the new material and its properties have been published in the journal Optical Materials. Physicists from Russia (Ural Federal University), Jordan, and Turkey took part in the work.

"Gamma radiation is widespread in the health care, food and aerospace industries. Excessive exposure can be harmful to human health. Gamma radiation is now attenuated or absorbed using lead, concrete, lead-oxide, tungsten, or tin-based materials. These protective materials are not always convenient to use as protection against gamma rays. In addition, they are expensive, too heavy and highly toxic to humans and the environment. This is why it is important to find new materials and optimize their composition for radiation protection, which will ensure human and environmental safety," says Oleg Tashlykov, Associate Professor at the Department of Nuclear Power Plants and Renewable Energy Sources at UrFU.

Physicists used silicone as a matrix for a protective material. Polydimethylsiloxane, i.e., silicone, is a light, strong, and flexible polymer that has excellent optical, physical, and mechanical properties and high radiation resistance, Oleg Tashlykov explains. Therefore, in the future, if tested successfully, it could be a promising alternative to lead and concrete in gamma radiation shielding.

At the same time, scientists are researching other polymers as well.

"Polymers are materials with a dense structure that allows better resistance to radiation. So, in addition to silicone, we can mention epoxy resin, polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride. Earlier, similar work had been carried out where the same epoxy had been studied, for example. We continue research in this direction, analyzing other polymers and new inclusions," explains Oleg Tashlykov.

Various minute particles, nanopowders, can be used as polymer additives and must have a high atomic number. Physicists have investigated a number of possible variants of nanopowders and excluded samples that are too expensive or difficult to obtain. Then they checked the remaining ones for compliance with certain chemical parameters. As a result, the scientists stopped on zinc oxide, as it is quite easy to obtain in the laboratory. It is also important that this substance is not harmful to the environment.

In the next phase of research, physicists have established the optimal particle content filler, which maximizes the radiation-protective properties of silicone. It turned out that it is possible to fill it with nanopowder by 10-50%. If you add a larger amount, the material will have good protective properties, but it will begin to break down quickly.

However, it is too early to say that the combination of silicone with zinc oxide nanopowder will be better than other possible combinations, the scientists warn.

"This result is one step in our large-scale research. In the next year or two, we plan to investigate a wider range of materials that can attenuate radiation. Now we are preparing samples for experimental conditions, already in the existing Nuclear Power Station, specifically at the Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station. We plan to measure samples of shielding materials there and compare simulation results, calculated and experimental. Then we will move on to the new compositions," says Oleg Tashlykov.

The physicist notes that it is only after the study of a number of other materials that it will be possible to draw specific conclusions as to whether a particular combination of substances is more appropriate for radiation protection.

In the future, scientists want to test all suitable formulations by irradiation in the reactor to eliminate the possibility that any chemical element in the composition of the material is activated, that is, becomes radioactive and additional radiation is generated. In the future, with the successful completion of all tests, scientists will be able to get the cheapest and most effective material that will be an excellent protection against gamma rays.

Published in journaljournal Optical Materials

Source/CreditUral Federal University

Reference Number: phy121522_01

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