A University of Wollongong invention that measures astronauts’ levels of radiation exposure will improve the safety of humans and electronics during space missions.
That’s why UOW researchers have been awarded funding from the European Space Agency to further develop its “unique microdosimeter”.
The $480,000 (€300,000) in funding will be used by UOW’s Centre for Medical Radiation Physics (CMRP) and its development partner, Norwegian microelectronics foundry SINTEF, to design and fabricate a prototype of the radiation detector that can be used on space missions.
The patented silicon-based microdosimeter was invented by CMRP director Distinguished Professor Anatoly Rozenfeld.
CMRP is internationally recognised as a leader in the field of radiation sensors for use in space exploration, medicine, aviation and homeland security.
Professor Rozenfeld said cosmic radiation was one of the main health hazards associated with space travel and exploration.
“Space weather is not always predictable and can produce harmful effect in electronics and to humans,” Prof Rozenfeld said.
“For example, on a spacecraft, a chance incident where an ion strikes a sensitive node on a microchip can lead to what’s called a Single Event Upset (SEU), which can totally destroy the chip functionality and leave the satellite without communication and navigation.
“Radiation damage to human cells by a single ion passing through the cell, or in close proximity to cell, is similar to SEU in microelectronics and can damage or kill the cell, which can lead to the formation of cancer.”
The microdosimeters contain an array of sensitive micron-sized cylindrical sensors, nicknamed “mushrooms” by the CMRP team, which mimic biological cells.
CMRP physicist Dr Linh Tran, who contributed to the design and technology of the sensors, said the science of microdosimetry was continually advancing.
“We are planning to further develop solid state microdosimetry and nanodosimetry for space application to better understand the biological effects of space radiation and its effects on semiconductor microelectronics,” Dr Tran said.