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Seeing the invisible: Direct visualization of therapeutic radiation beams using air scintillation
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To assess whether air scintillation produced during standard radiation treatments can be visualized and used to monitor a beam in a nonperturbing manner.
Air scintillation is caused by the excitation of nitrogen gas by ionizing radiation. This weak emission occurs predominantly in the 300–430 nm range. An electron-multiplication charge-coupled device camera, outfitted with an f/0.95 lens, was used to capture air scintillation produced by kilovoltage photon beams and megavoltage electron beams used in radiation therapy. The treatment rooms were prepared to block background light and a short-pass filter was utilized to block light above 440 nm.
Air scintillation from an orthovoltage unit (50 kVp, 30 mA) was visualized with a relatively short exposure time (10 s) and showed an inverse falloff (r2 = 0.89). Electron beams were also imaged. For a fixed exposure time (100 s), air scintillation was proportional to dose rate (r2 = 0.9998). As energy increased, the divergence of the electron beam decreased and the penumbra improved. By irradiating a transparent phantom, the authors also showed that Cherenkov luminescence did not interfere with the detection of air scintillation. In a final illustration of the capabilities of this new technique, the authors visualized air scintillation produced during a total skin irradiation treatment.
Air scintillation can be measured to monitor a radiation beam in an inexpensive and nonperturbing manner. This physical phenomenon could be useful for dosimetry of therapeutic radiation beams or for online detection of gross errors during fractionated treatments.
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