Markus Hofstetter
Gallium nitride based thin films for photon and particle radiation dosimetry
Supervisor: PD Dr. Stefan Thalhammer [Experimental physics IV]
Date of oral examination: 07/23/2012
Ionization chambers have been used since the beginning of the 20th century for measuring ionizing radiation and still represent the %93gold standard%94 in dosimetry. However, since the sensitivity of the devices is proportional to the detection volume, ionization chambers are not common in numerous medical applications, such as imaging. In these fields, spatially resolved dose information is, beside film-systems, usually measured with scintillators and photo-multipliers, which is a relatively complex and expensive technique. For thus much effort has been focused on the development of novel detection systems in the last decades and especially in the last few years. Examples include germanium or silicon photoconductive detectors, MOSFETs, and PIN-diodes. Although for these systems, miniaturization for spatially resolved detection is possible, they suffer from a range of disadvantages. Characteristics such as poor measurement stability, material degradation, and/or a limited measurement range prevent routine application of these techniques in medical diagnostic devices. This work presents the development and evaluation of gallium nitride (GaN) thin films and heterostructures to validate their application in x-ray detection in the medical regime. Furthermore, the impact of particle radiation on device response was investigated. Although previous publications revealed relatively low energy absorption of GaN, it is possible to achieve very high signal amplification factors inside the material due to an appropriate sensor configuration, which, in turn, compensates the low energy absorption. Thus, gallium nitride can be used as a photo-conductor with ohmic contacts. The conductive volume of the sensor changes in the presence of external radiation, which results in an amplified measurement signal after applying a bias voltage to the device. Experiments revealed a sensitivity of the device between air kerma rates of 1 %B5Gy/s and 20 mGy/s. In this range, the measured signals can be calibrated against the corresponding dose rate. Although the active sensor volume of the GaN devices is about 105 times smaller than ionization chambers, it was possible to produce partially comparable measurement results. By utilizing a two-dimensional electron gas, which is produced inside an AlGaN/GaN heterostructure, a further increase of the amplification factors of the devices was achievable. Therefore, measurement of photon intensities in the range of 103 %96 104 photons/s is possible. Since these structures are also used for the measurement of physiological parameters like the pH value, combined measurements of surface potentials and x-ray dosimetry were investigated. It could be shown that not only is a measurement of physiological parameters during an irradiation is possible but also combined simultaneous measurements of radiation and pH and the surface pH, while keeping a pH sensitivity of 57 mV/pH. Therefore the GaN sensors could be used as biosensing tools in radiation biophysics, in addition to their application as pure dosimeters. Biocompatibility and biofunctionality evaluations of gallium nitride show that no alterations of cellular systems in direct contact with the material are measureable. In summary, this work demonstrates a novel system for radiation detection based on gallium nitride, which possesses characteristics that could overcome difficulties of other technologies, such as these mentioned above. Furthermore, by utilizing a heterostructure, the devices could be used as biosensors, which work during external radiation exposure and allow multi-parameter measurements.