A comparative study of radiation effects in medical-grade polymers: UHMWPE, PCU and PEEK


In this study, three medical-grade polymers, ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), polycarbonate urethane (PCU) and poly (ether ether ketone) PEEK, were tested immediately after x-irradiation. The primary purpose of this study was to provide a qualitative comparison of the radiation-sensitivity of these polymers. To evaluate radiation-induced defects or trapped charges, radiation dosimetry method, known as thermally stimulated luminescence (TSL) or thermoluminescence (TL), was employed, and for free radical comparison, electron spin resonance (ESR) was used. When these polymers were x-irradiated at room temperature and subsequently heated, broad luminescence was detected as a function of temperature (known as a glow curve) in the temperature region of 75 °C to 250 °C. In particular, TSL of PCU exhibited glow peaks near 140 °C and 225 °C, that of PEEK near 100 °C and 150 °C, and of UHMWPE near 100 °C and 140 °C. In each case, totalTSL was found to increase as a function of x-ray exposure, suggesting the production of radiation-induced species in the respective polymer matrix. Compared to PCU or PEEK, UHMWPE was found to form more than one order of magnitude of free radicals per unit mass per unit x-ray exposure. In two hours in air at room temperature after irradiation, UHMWPE lost 42% of its initial radical concentration, while PCU lost 75%. X-ray induced PEEK radicals (peroxy/phenoxy) decayed in about one week. Unlike UHMWPE or PCU, non-irradiated (as-received) PEEK was found to contain residual radicals. In UHMWPE, primary radicals reportedly decay to oxygen-centered polyenyl radicals in about three months. In all the results did find significant radical formation via ESR and supporting radiation sensitivity measurements via TSL, warranting further investigation into the effects of radiation on PEEK and PCU.

Publication Title

Radiation Physics and Chemistry