Solid-state drives emit less radiation
Can airport x-ray scanners damage your phone or laptop?
If you have already taken a flight, you will be familiar with the exercise Smartphone & laptop search: Know your rights Smartphone & laptop search: Know your rights Do you know what rights you have when you are using a laptop, smartphone or hard drive to travel abroad? Read More Your Chromebook as the Ultimate Travel Device Your Chromebook as the Ultimate Travel Device When it's time to decide which device to use for your next trip, check out Chromebooks. But why choose a Chromebook for travel? Because when it comes to travel, you are at the right place. Read More
Have you ever wondered how to see the contents of your bag without opening it? You may have wondered if what they are doing is harmful to the electronics in your pocket. In this article, we'll tell you what X-rays are, how they work, and how they can affect your electronic devices.
What are X-rays?
X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation. Is Electromagnetic Radiation Dangerous? How do you protect yourself? Is Electromagnetic Radiation Dangerous? How do you protect yourself? Can cell phones cause cancer? The media certainly know how to pollute with facts. How does the radiation from electronics affect your body? Well, calm down! It is not so bad. Read More An "individual X-ray image" is only one photon and has more energy than a photon of visible light. This increased energy enables an X-ray beam to move through objects while visible light is simply absorbed or reflected.
It is important to note that while X-rays are a form of radiation, They are not radioactive or are produced by radioactive substances. Any effects that occur are the result of X-rays interacting with a material as it passes through it - there is no "lingering X-ray residue" to worry about.
How do x-rays take pictures?
X-ray images can be used to create static images (like a photograph), “life” images (like an overhead projector), or even 3D images (i.e., a CT scanner). In all cases, the X-rays are generated in the same way and interact with objects in the same way, but airport scanners only use the "life" variety.
To take an X-ray, you will need an X-ray tube. This tube fires electrons from a copper cathode to an anode, which is typically made of tungsten, molybdenum, or copper. When the electrons hit the anode, they slow down and generate both x-rays and heat. The anode is angled so that the X-rays are emitted in a specific direction.
To create an image, you need a way to measure the amount of x-rays that go through an object. For this reason, X-ray image receptors are placed behind the object. Denser materials, such as bone and metal, prevent X-rays from passing through, while other materials, such as skin, allow them to pass through finely.
In an airport scanner, the image receiver is equipped with a material that lights up when exposed to X-rays. Therefore, objects that block X-rays, such as Your phone or laptop, for example, is dark in the picture, while everything else is light. An image intensifier is used to make the contrast even clearer.
Of course, the image doesn't have to be just black and white, which is what you would likely expect from an X-ray. In fact, most modern scanners can colorize the image based on the density ranges to make it easier to recognize certain objects.
As for checked baggage, they are instead taken through a CT scanner, which is a completely different fish kettle. X-rays are still involved but are emitted from multiple points in a continuously revolving ring that are then used to create a 3D image that shows all of the contents from every angle without having to be opened.
Can X-rays damage?
X-rays are a type of ionizing radiation, which means that the photons have enough energy to knock electrons out of the atoms they come in contact with, creating positively charged ions.
In large doses, ionizing radiation can damage biological tissue by damaging cell DNA faster than can be repaired. But electronics aren't made of biological tissue and they don't have DNA to worry about. So can X-rays harm them? Not in any significant way, no.
Magnetic data storage
Magnetic data storage devices How does a hard drive work? [Technology Explained] How Does a Hard Drive Work? [Technology Explained] Read More The polarity of each area represents either a one or a zero. These are the binary values used to store data electronically.
While these devices are delicate and sensitive to magnets, they are opaque to all types of light, including X-rays. Chances are, you don't want to run a portable hard drive through a metal detector - and definitely not near an MRI machine! - But it's perfectly fine to go through an airport scanner.
Flash data storage
What about your solid state drive? 101 Solid State Drive Guide 101 Solid State Drive Guide Solid State Drives (SSDs) have brought the middle class to the high-end computing world. But what is that? Read More Again, there is nothing to worry about. These use transistors that either allow electrical currents to pass (represent a one) or prevent electrical currents from passing (represent a zero), and so data is stored.
X-rays can theoretically affect flash memory by converting a stored cell (representing a one) to an erased cell (representing a zero). If this happens with enough cells, it can lead to data loss. However, the intensity of the x-rays used in an airport scanner is so low that it never is.
Computers and tablets
Computers and tablets do not contain any light-sensitive components, either for visible light or for X-rays. You don't have to worry about plugging your laptop into the X-ray machine.
Airport security will ask you to remove all laptops from the bag, but not because they must be treated differently from the rest of your luggage. Rather, laptops contain dense circuits that can obscure everything else in your pocket.
TSA approved bags that allow you to leave your laptop in the bag work because they have special laptop compartments that keep the laptops from disrupting the entire contents of the bag.
Cell Phones & Media Players
Like computers and tablets, cell phones - smart or otherwise - don't use light-sensitive materials to keep them from being damaged by X-rays. Also, since they are much smaller, you don't have to worry about them covering your carry-on luggage so they can stay in your bag.
Cameras and camcorders
So far we've talked about photosensitive materials, so you might be thinking, “What about cameras and camcorders? Your sensors are sensitive to light - this is how they work What is digital photography? [Technology Explained] What is digital photography? [Technology Explained] Read More
Yes, these sensors are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, but are protected by locks and the housing of the devices. You may have problems trying to capture a long exposure of the inside of the x-ray machine (seriously, don't), but if your machine is not actively picking up light there is no problem.
Undeveloped film is the only thing to worry about when going through an airport scanner. The more energetic X-rays can penetrate the plastic film container and damage your images.
However, you only really need to worry if you were shooting with very fast film (that is, film with a very high ISO that is particularly sensitive to light). Regular movies will most likely not be affected. However, if you have photos on film that absolutely need to be preserved, you should probably try to process them before getting on a plane.
Let's put it all in perspective
The main reason you shouldn't worry about airport scanners damaging your electronics is because they actually get more background radiation while in flight than when they went through the scanner.
The earth is constantly immersed in all kinds of radiation, most of which come from the sun. The atmosphere makes most of it good, but the higher your altitude, the more radiation it emits.
So if you fly 36,000 feet from New York to Los Angeles, you - and your equipment - will get as much radiation as you would get from two chest x-rays. This isn't a dangerous amount of radiation, but it puts things in perspective.
Have you ever damaged electronics in an airport security scanner? Let us know in the comments!
Photo credit: Milkovasa via Shutterstock
Find out more about: electronics, gadgets, travel.
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