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New carbon foam can detect neutrons emitted by radioactive material

Close-up image of the boron carbide coated reticulated carbon foam sample used in the experiments. Pic Courtesy: sciencedaily.com

A new research paper reveals how specially prepared carbon foam can be used in the detection of neutrons emitted by radioactive materials, which could give boost to security, industries and safety.

Study:

  • The research was carried out by scientist Dr Christopher Lavelle of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, together with a team of researchers from the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
  • Dr Lavelle is lead author of the paper “Demonstration of Neutron Detection Utilizing Open Cell Foam and Noble Gas Scintillation” released today in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
  • They successfully showed that boron-coated vitreous carbon foam can be used in the detection of neutrons emitted by radioactive materials.

Findings of research:

  • The usual detection material helium 3 has become harder to obtain, at the same time the demand for nuclear detection material has increased.
  • Boron is abundant and relatively low cost compared to helium-3, an advantage seen from the research.
  • Also, the coated foam used, in particular, disperses the boron evenly throughout the detector, increasing efficiency of detection.
  • Lavelle and his colleagues worked to build a series of experiments with scientists at NIST and the University of Maryland demonstrating that a process called noble gas scintillation can be controlled and characterized enough to detect the neutrons emitted by radioactive materials.

What is Scintillation ?

      • It is a process wherein the energetic particles produce flashes of light when passing through certain materials, for example xenon gas.
      • Sensitive light detectors record the rate at which these light flashes occur to measure the presence and intensity of neutrons in the environment.

Conclusion:

  • Detecting neutrons is key to counterterrorism activities, such as screening cargo containers, as well as other important applications in nuclear power instrumentation, workplace safety and industry.

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