Scottish researchers have created the brightest ever gamma ray in a breakthrough that could prove to be a powerful tool in cancer therapy.

Scientists at the University of Strathclyde said the ray, which is more than a thousand times brighter than the Sun, could be used in medical imaging, radiotherapy and radioisotope production, as well as monitoring the integrity of stored nuclear waste.

Researchers led by Professor Dino Jaroszynski of Strathclyde University have found that ultra-short-duration laser pulses could interact with ionised gas to give off beams that are so intense they can pass through 20cm of lead and would take 1.5 metres of concrete to be completely absorbed, a university release said.

The research has been published in the journal Nature Physics.

“This is a great breakthrough, which could make the probing of very dense matter easier and more extensive, and so allow us to monitor nuclear fusion capsules imploding,” said Professor Dino Jaroszynski.

“In nature, if you accelerate charged particles, such as electrons, they radiate. We trapped particles in a cavity of ions trailing an intense laser pulse and accelerated these to high energies. Electrons in this cavity also interact with the laser and pick up energy from it and oscillate wildly — much like a child being pushed on a swing. The large swinging motion and the high energy of the electrons allow a huge increase in the photon energy to produce gamma rays.”

Researchers said the rays could also act as a powerful tool in medicine for cancer therapy and there is nothing else to match the duration of the gamma ray pulses, which is also why it is so bright.

The device used in the research is smaller and less costly than more conventional sources of gamma rays, which are a form of X-rays, making it ideal for use in medical settings.