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  11-03-2003: A PUPPET NAMED JIMMY  
 COMPLETE LIST 
The puppet Jimmy
The puppet Jimmy

© Copyright 2002 INFN The use of photos is free of charge. Please request authorisation from the INFN Communication Office


© Copyright 2002 INFN The use of photos is free of charge. Please request authorisation from the INFN Communication Office

Infn researchers developed an anthropomorphous puppet to measure the radiation dose received on airplane flights and in other environments.

Its name is Jimmy, it weighs just under 50 kilograms and it makes long trips in planes, but it isn’t a passenger like any other. Jimmy is a puppet with a vaguely human form which can measure the quantity of cosmic radiation a person’s body receives during a normal intercontinental flight. It was designed by a group of researchers of the Turin section of Infn (the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics), led by Alba Zanini, to evaluate the neutronic component of cosmic radiation in a particularly precise manner. Alitalia has been transporting Jimmy on its flights in the past months in order to check the dose received by the personnel on board: indeed the crew is exposed to cosmic radiation during flight and international regulations request airlines to carry out periodical checks on the various routes.

Various kinds of particles make up cosmic radiation. Among them, apart from neutrons, there are also protons, electrons and photons. Neutrons have a capacity to produce 5 to 20 times as much damage to cells as X-rays and gamma rays. Moreover, neutrons are a type of radiation that is particularly important at the height intercontinental flights travel at since they represent about 50 percent of the total dose.

Some tissues and organs in the human body are particularly sensitive to the biological effects of radiation, such as the thyroid, bone marrow and lungs. Therefore, it is important to know which dose of these radiations due to neutrons is absorbed by these parts of our body. Thus, Jimmy was built as a puppet in a human form with dosimeters lodged inside cavities in the same positions as the human organs most sensitive to radiation. Each dosimeter measures the energy released by the neutrons to the organs in question and is made with substances that simulate the composition of human tissues. Naturally, since energy is released to the tissues through an extremely complex mechanism, appropriate materials and measuring techniques are necessary to obtain a correct evaluation of the dose of neutrons. The entire system was accurately tested for reliability as well as calibrated using different neutron sources, at the Centro Comune di Ricerca in Ispra (Va) of the European Community and in the laboratories of Cern in Geneva.

Settled over two seats of a common airplane, with a researcher by its side, Jimmy has already been tested on two intercontinental flights in January: the equatorial route Rome --Buenos Aires-Milan and the polar route Rome-Tokyo-Milan. The trips were chosen in consideration of the fact that flights that transit on polar routes receive a greater quantity of radiation than flights that follow an equatorial route. This is due to the difference in the shielding effect of the Earth’s magnetic field on incident radiation. Therefore, thanks to the puppet it has been possible to determine the dose of neutrons absorbed during a flight with a totally new technique. This new series of data integrates the evaluation of environmental dose which is regularly carried out, using standard procedures, by the Alitalia experts in charge of prevention and protection of in-flight personnel. An expert qualified in cosmic radiation supervises the evaluation. “Thanks to Jimmy, we can confirm that personnel travelling on board of intercontinental flights habitually receive, in the course of a year, an added dose amounting to one and a half times the natural baseline radiation that each of us absorbs on the ground in everyday life”, comments Lorenzo Visca, the young Infn physicist who was the puppet’s official escort in its transoceanic flights.

Besides on airline flights, Jimmy is used in other situations that require knowledge of how many neutrons a human being absorbs. Keeping to measurements in the high atmosphere, but this time without an escort, in June 2001 Jimmy flew from Trapani to Sevilla on board of stratospheric balloons launched by the Italian Space Agency (Asi), in order to evaluate the dose that would be absorbed at extremely high altitudes by the pilots of new generation experimental airplanes, which will be able to reach an altitude of 30 kilometres. Furthermore, the puppet has already been placed in various Italian and European hospitals near the instruments used for the radiotherapeutic treatment of tumours. In these situations, indeed, although patients are irradiated with a beam of gamma rays that is controlled and concentrated on the area to be treated, a secondary component of undesired neutrons is also produced, which originate from the interaction of the gamma rays with the apparatus. These neutrons spread in the environment and their dosage should be evaluated in order to perfect the treatment. Finally, other measurements were carried out at the Testa Grigia laboratory of Cnr, 3.480 metres high on the Cervino massif, as a preliminary study to determine the dose absorbed by the populations living at high altitudes, for whom the natural baseline due to ionising radiation of a cosmic origin is higher.

Looking to the future, many more interesting applications will open for the sophisticated puppet. Jimmy will be one of the first passengers on board of the Boeing 777, a new entry in the Alitalia fleet as far as comfort and technology go. The puppet will travel on the Rome-Buenos Aires route in the next few months, comfortably settled over two of the 293 seats available. Moreover, Jimmy could be used to measure the neutronic component of the baseline residue of radiation that is still present in the area around Chernobyl, in Ucraine, following the 1986 accident. Finally, the puppet could be used, after proper modification, to measure the dose absorbed on board of the International Space Station (Iss), in orbit around the Earth.


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