Georgia Institute of Technology, www.gatech.edu

Researchers at The Georgia Institute of Technology are exploring the use of silicon-germanium microchips as a way to protect electronics on spacecraft from both ionizing radiation and cosmic rays. The material is intrinsically immune to many types of radiation, except the heavy ions in cosmic rays.

The research team uses a laser to inject current into silicon-germanium transistors and monitors the effects with a high-speed oscilloscope. The laser, like cosmic rays, causes a current pulse that may last only a few picoseconds. Once researchers understand what goes on when these transistors are zapped with cosmic rays, they can design radiation-immune versions that will survive in outer space. This method should be less expensive and lead to lighter circuits than current methods of radiation hardening, which can involve triple-redundant circuits or shielding.