Research Papers in Physics and Astronomy


Date of this Version

January 1986


Published in Advances in Space Research 6:11 (1986), pp. 191-198. Copyright © 1986 COSPAR; published by Elsevier. Used by permission.


The biological effect of heavy ions is best described through the action cross section, as a function of the end-point of interest and the charge and speed of the ion. In track theory this is called the “ion-kill" cross section, for it is the effect produced by a single heavy ion and its delta rays. As with nuclear emulsions the biological track structure passes from the grain count regime to the track width regime to the thindown region with an increase in LET. With biological cells, as with any detector capable of storing sub-lethal damage, with low LET irradiation the action cross section (in the ion-kill mode) is increasingly obscured by the effect of "gamma-kill” by the influence of overlapping delta rays from neighboring heavy ions. Thus at low LET, response is dominated by the gamma-kill mode, so that the RBE approaches 1. The theory requires 4 radiosensitivity parameters for biological detectors, extracted from survival curves at several high LET bombardments passing through the grain count regime, and at high doses. Once these are known the systematic response of biological detectors to all high LET bombardments can be unfolded separating ion kill from gamma kill, predicting the response to a mixed radiation environment, and predicting low dose response even at the level of a single heavy ion. Cell killing parameters are now available for a variety of cell lines. Newly added is a set of parameters for cell transformation.

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