Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physics and Astronomy


Dr. David R. Chettle


X-ray fluorescence (XRF) has been demonstrated to be a useful technique for measuring trace quantities of heavy metals in various tissues within the body. This thesis investigates a means of improving the measurement of lead in bone, as well as increasing the existing sensitivity of measuring kidney mercury content. The XRF measurement of uranium is also explored. This work assesses the feasibility of a normalisation method for the 57 Co/90° system, in relating detected signal to the lead content of the sample. The feasibility of normalisation has been shown, which reduces subject dose and improves system transportability, as well as removes subjectivity, by eliminating the need for acquiring planar x-ray images of the measurement site. In the measurement of renal mercury concentrations, a gain in sensitivity increasing the x-ray tube operating voltage of the current system is investigated. It found that 250 kV, rather than 175 kV, and a titanium rather than uranium filter, results in a 2.5 ± 0.2 times gain in sensitivity. This potential improvement could have profound clinical implications for the accuracy of occupational monitoring, and for assessing whether there is a quantitative relationship between biological fluid levels and mercury content in this critical organ. The XRF measurement of bone uranium content is also explored. Both source-excited and polarised systems have been developed, however, the sensitivity is currently beyond that which is useful for occupational monitoring of exposure to this toxin. The particular case of measuring uranium in survivors of "Friendly Fire" incidents (from Operation Desert Storm) is investigated, and the first detectable quantity of uranium has been observed in a member of this cohort, with the XRF system designed and built during the course of this work.

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