Researchers at Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new material that opens doors for a new class of neutron detectors.
With the ability to sense smuggled nuclear materials, highly efficient neutron detectors are critical for national security. Currently, there are two classes of detectors which either use helium gas or flashes of light. These detectors are very large -- sometimes the size of a wall.
Northwestern - Argonne - Material - Class - Semiconductor
Northwestern and Argonne's material introduces a third class: a semiconductor that can absorb neutrons and generate electrical signals that can be easily measured. The semiconductor-based detector is also highly efficient and stable. It can be used both in small, portable devices for field inspections and very large detectors that use arrays of crystals.
The study will be published in the Jan. 16 issue of the journal Nature.
People - Semiconductor - Neutron - Detectors - Time
"People have imagined semiconductor neutron detectors for a long time," said Northwestern's Mercouri Kanatzidis, who led the research. "The idea was there, but no one had the right material to do it."
Kanatzidis is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in Northwestern's Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. He has a joint appointment with Argonne.
Elements - Uranium - Plutonium - Decay - Atoms
When heavy elements, such as uranium and plutonium, decay, their atoms eject neutrons from their nuclei. Most neutron detectors are so-called scintillators that work by sensing ejected neutrons and then emitting light to alert the user. This new material is a semiconductor and does not emit light, but instead directly detects electrical signals induced by the neutrons. In addition to security applications, neutron detectors are used in radiation safety, astronomy, plasma physics, materials science and crystallography.
Whereas classic types of thermal neutron detectors have been in use since the 1950s, a practical semiconductor material has remained...
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