The new detector, described at the March Meeting of the American Physical Society* by Charles Clark, a Fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute of NIST and the University of Maryland, promises to improve existing neutron measurements and enable tests of new phenomena beyond the Standard Model, the basic framework of particle physics.
The prototype laboratory device is based on a process first observed by the research team: the emission of light from hydrogen atoms produced when neutrons are absorbed by helium-3 atoms (3He). Lyman alpha light, discovered by Harvard physicist Theodore Lyman in 1906, results from the jump between the two lowest-energy states of the hydrogen atom. Although it is the brightest light emitted by the sun and is one of the most abundant forms of light in the universe, Lyman alpha is invisible to the eye because it lies in the far ultraviolet region of the optical spectrum. It is strongly absorbed by most substances and can travel through only about a millimeter of air.
Helium gas, however, does not absorb Lyman alpha light. When a neutron is absorbed by a helium-3 atom, one atom of hydrogen and one atom of tritium (a heavy form of hydrogen) are produced. These atoms fly apart at high speeds, can be excited by collisions with surrounding helium gas, and subsequently emit Lyman alpha light. This light is recorded by the new device, known as the Lyman alpha neutron detector (LAND).
Using an ultracold neutron beam at the NIST Center for Neutron Research, the research team has discovered that Lyman alpha light is generated with surprisingly high efficiency: about 40 photons are generated per neutron for helium gas at atmospheric pressure. According to Alan Thompson, neutron expert on the team, “This device thus has the potential to detect both single neutrons and large numbers of neutrons, which is very difficult to do with present neutron detectors based on electrical discharges.”
The use of an optical means of detection, rather than an electronic one, also offers the prospect of at least a hundredfold improvement in neutron detectors’ dynamic range (the spread in recordable neutron intensity from faint to bright). This stems from the fact that optical detectors respond more quickly than electronic detectors (which suffer from longer periods of inactivity known as “dead time.”)
With further development, this new method can potentially lead to better measurements at existing neutron facilities (for example, neutron diffraction instruments at the NIST Center for Neutron Research) and enable new tests of physics beyond the Standard Model. Measurements at NIST of a property in neutrons known as the electric dipole moment and more precise measurements of the neutron lifetime are planned.
Ben Stein | EurekAlert!
Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun
18.04.2019 | University of Warwick
In vivo super-resolution photoacoustic computed tomography by localization of single dyed droplets
18.04.2019 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences
A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter
A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.
Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...
The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks
Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...
Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.
Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...
Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna
A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...
17.04.2019 | Event News
15.04.2019 | Event News
09.04.2019 | Event News
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences
18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
18.04.2019 | Life Sciences