Radiation shields play a crucial role in various industries, protecting human health and equipment from harmful radiation exposure. Among the materials used for radiation shielding, glasses have garnered significant attention due to their unique properties, such as transparency and versatility, as well as their relatively cheap manufacturing cost. This article will delve into the use of glass coatings for radiation shielding applications, exploring the science behind their effectiveness, the benefits of various doping materials, and their diverse applications in industries like nuclear, medical, aerospace, and more.

Advancing Radiation Shielding with Doping

Glass coatings tailored for radiation shielding applications have become a subject of immense interest and research within the scientific community. Among the diverse materials used, borate glasses doped with various oxides have proven to be exceptional candidates for enhancing radiation shielding efficiency.2,3 The process of doping involves introducing specific oxides, particularly heavy metal oxides known for their high densities, into the glass matrix. This strategic addition significantly bolsters the glass’ ability to absorb and attenuate incoming radiation, making it a vital component in numerous industries where radiation protection is paramount.

Such specialized glasses have been used as radiation shields for decades. Lead glass, for example, was used initially in items such as protective eyewear as it is able to absorb gamma, X-Ray, and neutron radiation. However, despite its shielding properties, lead and lead-based compounds have long been associated with adverse health effects and environmental concerns. Another disadvantage to using lead additives is the more lead a glass contains, the lower its melting point and the softer it becomes. 

In response to these challenges, researchers have been exploring non-toxic alternatives to replace lead in glass compositions, effectively mitigating health and environmental risks while maintaining or even improving shielding efficiency. Examples include barium oxide, which absorbs thermal neutrons and ionizing radiation, reduces secondary radiation, and improves durability in borate glasses; zinc oxide, which enhances thermal stability, chemical durability and decreases the glass system’s crystallization in borate glasses and is considered to be an environmentally friendly UV absorber; and cadmium oxide which can improve density and mechanical properties.2,3 Other studies have reported that borosilicate-based glasses, consisting of silica and boron trioxide, have proven to be more thermally resistant and harder than conventional glass — properties that are imperative for effective radiation shielding.4 This ongoing quest for safer and more effective doping materials underscores the critical importance of developing advanced glass coatings for radiation shielding applications.

Applications of Glass Radiation Sheilds

The versatility and exceptional properties of glass radiation shields have led to their widespread application across various critical industries. In the nuclear sector, these shields find use in windows, providing a clear view for workers to observe and manage radioactive materials during processing. Moreover, doped glasses are currently under investigation as potential alternatives to concrete, which is conventionally employed to prevent gamma radiation leakage from nuclear reactors.5 One of the key advantages of glass over concrete lies in its lightweight nature, easy maneuverability, and transparency in the visible region, making it the preferred material of choice in most instances. Additionally, the tolerability of glass to accommodate a wide array of elements further bolsters its appeal as an indispensable component in the nuclear industry.

In the medical field, glass radiation shields offer crucial protection in various applications. They are employed in the form of hot cells, gloveboxes, and gloves during the manufacture and processing of radiopharmaceuticals or as leaded windows to protect radiographers during X-Ray or PET scans. Beyond the medical realm, glass radiation shields find utility in diverse applications, such as airport X-Ray machines and cyclotron maintenance. The breadth of these applications underscores the indispensable role of glass coatings in radiation, particularly when it comes to fostering advancements in safety and efficiency across multiple industries.

Aerospace Interest

Another massive and expanding area of interest lies in aerospace applications, where the sector is driven by the pressing need to shield both individuals and equipment from an array of damaging high-energy radiation threats. A device coated with a radiation-blocking material such as a transparent glass/polymer material would protect the device and prolong its lifetime. Within the aerospace and defense industries, there is a particular focus on developing solutions to shield electronic equipment from interference arising from electromagnetic radio and radio-frequency (RF) waves, both of which could pose severe safety risks. As portable electronic devices and embedded electronic systems have become more prevalent in aircraft, so have RF emissions, which raises concerns over potential interference, data corruption, and other detrimental effects. Another consideration is the threat of electronic ‘countermeasures,’ which can range from radar jamming to electromagnetic pulse attacks.6

At present, research efforts are being made to help address some of these aerospace concerns. One notable study outlines a groundbreaking glass-ceramic composite, designed to serve as a transparent shield against UV radiation in space while effectively safeguarding living cells and organic dyes from radiation damage on Earth.7 This innovative material is a glass-ceramic composite made from cerium oxide, a UV absorber, embedded in a fluorine nanostructure. The group’s innovative approach to fabrication, which capitalizes on microstructure engineering and nanocrystallinization, bears significant implications for the glass industry, driving progress in cutting-edge radiation shielding technologies.

The aerospace sector is currently at the forefront of a profound transformation, where glass coatings are emerging as a vital element in shielding aerospace personnel and equipment from the ever-evolving spectrum of high-energy radiation threats. Such advancements are likely to pave the way for future groundbreaking developments within this dynamic industry, expanding the frontiers of exploration.

Mo-Sci: Pioneering Glass Solutions

Mo-Sci’s commitment extends to the exploration of similar materials with versatile applications across multiple industries.9 The company boasts strong collaborations with diverse sectors, including healthcare, automotive, energy, and the military, reflecting its far-reaching impact in shielding solutions.

Over the years, Mo-Sci has built a formidable expertise in glass production and processing.10 Working alongside its clients, Mo-Sci helps to develop a material from the prototype stage through to commercialization.

Contact us today to learn more about the solutions on offer.

References and Further Reading

  1. Sayyed M.I. et al. The influence of PbO and Bi2O3 on the radiation shielding and elastic features for different glasses. Journal of Materials Research and Technology Volume 9, Issue 4, July–August 2020, Pages 8429-8438
  2. Sayyed M.I. et al. Optical and radiation shielding features for a new series of borate glass samples Optik Volume 239, August 2021, 166790
  3. Abouhaswa A.S. et al. Newly designed borate glass system for optical and radiation shielding applications: Multiple effects of CdS on structural, magnetic, optical, mechanical and photon shielding features. Ceramics International Volume 48, Issue 18, 15 September 2022, Pages 27120-27129
  4. Kilicoglu O. et al. Nuclear radiation shielding performance of borosilicate glasses: Numerical simulations and theoretical analyses Radiation Physics and Chemistry Volume 204, March 2023, 110676
  5. Kaur P. et al. Investigation of bismuth borate glass system modified with barium for structural and gamma-ray shielding properties. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy Volume 206, 5 January 2019, Pages 367-377
  6. Shielding against electromagnetic and RF interference for safety and mission success. Military and Aerospace Electronics July 26, 2016
  7. Zheng B. et al, Glass composite as robust UV absorber for biological protection. Optical Materials Express. Vol. 6, Issue 2, pp. 531-539 (2016)
  8. Mo-Sci. Using Glass for Radiation Shielding. 2020. Using Glass for Radiation Shielding Mo-Sci Corporation.
  9. Radiation Shielding and the Utilization of Glass. News Medical Life Sciences. 2021. Radiation Shielding and the Utilization of Glass (news-medical.net)
  10. Mo-Sci. Applications of thin and thick glass films. 2022. Applications of Thin and Thick Glass Films Mo-Sci Corporation