For over a century gamma rays have had a recurring cameo as the radiation from the wrong side of the tracks. The time, though, may have come to recast them in a leading role. We have finally discovered how they can be bent to our will. Not much, but enough to open up some interesting possibilities.
We’ve known since Newton’s work with prisms that visible light and many other kinds of electromagnetic radiation can be refracted and so focussed, but it was widely thought gamma rays were too intense and high frequency to be bent in any meaningful way. However, a team at the Institut Laue-Langevein (ILL) in Grenoble have just managed it. Speaking on Material World, Dr Michael Jentschel from ILL told me it had been so widely accepted it was impossible that “ nobody really looked into it much deeper”, but with improvements in gamma ray sources – like the powerful one at ILL – the time was right to try again. Having succeeded, Dr Jentschel believes it means there will be “a whole bunch of big applications coming in the next 10-20 years” including more sensitive and targeted medical imaging, new forms of treatment, and swift detection of nuclear weapons or other radioactive materials.
So as the Hulk turns 50, get ready for a gamma-ray burst of activity, and for this slice of the electromagnetic spectrum to be seen in a new, more positive light. As the Ramones almost put it in Pinhead, “Gamma, Gamma, we accept you, we accept you”.