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FYI, your e-ink reader could be permanently damaged by airport x-ray machines

If you’ve got an e-ink reader such as the Amazon Kindle that you’re planning on taking with you on a plane this holiday season, you should probably know that there’s a chance that airport x-ray machines could permanently kill the e-ink display in your device. It’s not certain, but it can happen. However, it’s not the x-rays themselves, but static on the rubber belts that run items through the machines.

“After my Kindle went through the X-ray scanner at Madrid airport, it no longer worked. I had been reading an e-book on the way to the airport so I knew there could be no other reason,” said Michael Hart, from London.

According to a leading expert on electronic ink, the truth could be more complicated. “I don’t think the radiation used in an airport scanner would ever be strong enough to damage an electronic ink display,” said Professor Daping Chu, Chairman of the University of Cambridge centre for Advanced Photonics.

"But you can get a build up of static inside these machines, caused by the rubber belt rubbing. If that charge were to pass through a Kindle, it’s conceivable that it could damage the screen.”

Electronic ink screens use thousands of tiny capsules filled with magnetic black and white particles to display text and pictures. It is controlled by applying a small voltage across the capsules, which sends either the positively charge white particles or the negatively charged black particles to the front. They stay in place until the next time a voltage is applied, which allows the Kindle battery to last for much longer than in gadgets that use LCD screens, such as the iPad. “A static charge from an airport scanner could be 100 volts or more,” said Professor Chu. “That could permanently stick the particles to the screen.” Amazon denied X-ray machines were a threat to the Kindle.

“Exposing your Kindle to an X-ray machine, such as those used by airport security, should not cause and problems with it,” a spokesman for the internet giant said.

Even though it may not happen, and even though Amazon denies it can happen, they will replace your Kindle if it’s damaged going through an x-ray machine.


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