X-ray protectionFew people are unaware of the consequences of exposure to radiation from X-ray machines and other sources. However, even fewer understand how window glass can provide protection from those harmful effects. To understand how this is possible, it will be helpful to first take a closer look at how these invisible rays inflict their damage on living tissues and the potential consequences to those exposed.

Radiation danger

It is recorded that, in 1895, when the wife of the father of radiography, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, was shown an image of her hand produced by her husband’s experimental apparatus, she responded by saying: “I have seen my death”. Her comment proved inadvertently valid in that the deaths of many people working with ionising radiation at that time can be attributed to its effects. Because large molecules like proteins and nucleic acids can become ionised by the rays, prolonged and repeated exposure frequently results in malignancy. Thus, the need for X-ray radiation protection windows is crucial to radiographers and anyone at risk of frequent exposure.

What Madam Roentgen had in fact seen were the white silhouettes of the various bones in her fingers and wrist set against the contrasting darker shades displayed by the surrounding soft tissues. The contrast is due to the fact that the energetic particles are absorbed to differing degrees by materials of different density. Like the calcium in bone that provides more of an obstruction than flesh, X-ray radiation protection windows also rely on the high density of their composition to provide the obstruction necessary to shield those behind it.

X-ray protection windows with high lead content

Nuclear power stations The dangers of working with this technology extend beyond the radiography and radiotherapy departments of our hospitals, also threatening workers in nuclear power stations, researchers, and those engaged in the preparation of radioactive isotopes for medical and other purposes. Where once concrete and lead were the only effective forms of shielding available, the latter had also been an ingredient of quality glassware for centuries. By extension, increasing the lead content of glass sufficiently as a means to leverage its absorptive properties has enabled manufacturers to develop a completely transparent yet highly effective type of safety barrier in the form of X-ray radiation protection windows.

Impenetrable glass protects against X-rays

Because of its high density, lead and certain of the other heavy metals that are sometimes included in this type of glass, possess a far larger number of electrons than other materials, and they are also more closely packed. When the photons produced by incoming rays come into contact with the electrons of a suitable heavy metal, their energy is absorbed and scattered repeatedly until dissipated and so it will fail to penetrate the full thickness of the glass barrier. In addition to the protective benefits, the ability of a radiographer, scientist, or technician to observe clearly the patients or objects being irradiated has proved to be invaluable.

The protection provided by windows impervious to X-rays and other forms of radiation has led to advances in many fields that would not otherwise have been possible. Known worldwide for its role in the development of specialised glass products, Schott is a leader in this crucially important technology. A wide range of Schott products is available in South Africa from LIT Africa.