Scientists at the Commerce Departments National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have designed and demonstrated the worlds most accurate gamma ray detector, which is expected to be useful eventually in verifying inventories of nuclear materials and detecting radioactive contamination in the environment.
Silicon chip built by NIST researchers with 16 tiny gamma ray detectors that may help nuclear inspectors improve analysis of plutonium and other radioactive materials. Each detector is one millimeter square. Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology
The data plots above show detection of gamma rays with specific energies. Arrows point to energies identified with the new detector that are difficult to detect in the red plot made with a conventional detector. Image credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Nuclear Security Agency, Los Alamos National Laboratory
The tiny prototype detector, described today at the American Physical Society national meeting in Baltimore, can pinpoint gamma ray emissions signatures of specific atoms with 10 times the precision of the best conventional sensors used to examine stockpiles of nuclear materials. The NIST tests, performed with different forms of plutonium at Los Alamos National Laboratory,* also show the prototype greatly clarifies the complex X-ray and gamma-ray emissions profile of plutonium.
Emissions from radioactive materials such as uranium or plutonium provide unique signatures that, if accurately measured, can indicate the age and enrichment of the material and sometimes its intended purpose or origin.
Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
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