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Monday, 10 September 2018

“Lighthouse Detector” can distinguish between many sources of radiation

R&D 100: Lighthouse Directional Radiation Detectors

A lighthouse is built to shed light on rocky waters, turning at the top of a tower to illuminate sections of a dark shoreline that might harm incoming boats. Researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and a company called Quaesta Instruments have drawn from that age-old design and assembled a sort of reverse-lighthouse to detect radiation in an area. Instead of sending light out, a Lighthouse Detector senses when radiation is coming in.

Although most radiation detectors like Geiger counters are omni-directional, the Lighthouse Detector uses a blocking material to allow gamma rays or neutrons to hit a sensor on only one side of the detector. Measurements are taken from all sides, and the Lighthouse Detector sends that information back to a computer that can figure out the direction of the source of radiation. The directional approach to radiation detection also allows the person measuring an area to distinguish between multiple sources of radiation in an area, as well as determine the shape and size of a potentially large area that's emitting radiation.

The detector's ability to ignore background radiation and pinpoint different primary sources of radiation could potentially make it useful to verify materials that are in storage. Alternatively, it can send an alert if certain materials pass a checkpoint. "This applies not only to large power plants or plutonium facilities, it can also extend to cancer centers working with radioactive therapies or academic labs studying materials properties," a report from LANL states. 

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