VICKSBURG, Miss.- A team of researchers from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Environmental Laboratory (EL) will be recognized later this year for an electronic collimator invention that enables the warfighter with a gamma radiation detector capable of directional detection without the use of shielding.
The team — including scientists John Furey, Cliff Morgan and Austin Davis of EL’s Environmental Systems Branch — was awarded a patent for the “Electronically Collimated Gamma Radiation Detector” that detects gamma radiation, a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation arising from the radioactive decay of atomic nuclei.
“Electronic collimation is intended to be used to enhance the directionality of radiation detection, for example in environmental surveys by Soldiers,” Furey said. “Detection of gamma radiation is, therefore, of highest importance to military personnel searching for nuclear weapons or radioactive waste that might be present in a dirty bomb.”
Furey described how changes in background gamma radiation can indicate movement of nuclear weapons through an area, allowing investigators to determine the travel path of such weapons. Gamma radiation detection is also useful when prospecting for radioactive ores or cleaning radioactive waste.
“Due to the penetrating nature of gamma radiation, most radiation sensors are inherently non-directional — any radiation that registers in the sensor literally ‘counts,’” said Furey. “Thus a sensor, such as a Geiger counter, carried by a Soldier can typically only tell her that she is somewhere near a radiation source and not the direction of the source.”
Heavy shielding is required to protect components from gamma radiation, a type of hazardous radiation emitted by radioactive materials, such as uranium and thorium. The team’s invention also eliminates the requirement for protective shielding.
“Collimation is the ability to assign a direction to detected radiation, and usually comes at the cost of heavy shielding material,” Furey said. “Electronic collimation is different because it utilizes internal sensor phenomenology to distinguish portions of the detected waveform to infer directionality within a single sensor, relying on modern fast electronics instead of merely integrating the waveform to produce a ‘count.’ This concept is distinct from, and can be used in conjunction with, coincidence-type collimation, which requires timing of counts from multiple detectors.”
Furey said the team began developing the technology in 2015. A prototype was demonstrated and delivered, and the patent application process began, ending with a May 2021 award announcement. Furey and his teammates will be recognized later this year with a plaque presentation ceremony by ERDC’s Office of Research and Technology Transfer, which processes patents for the center.
An EL team member since 1992, Furey uses his multidisciplinary scientific expertise to provide original research solutions for projects of national security concern and wide-ranging scope. Much of his work considers field and laboratory method development for characterizing the environmental effects of military operations. His research interests focus on the fate and effects of organic and elemental contaminants, multivariate analyses, instrumentation especially involving spectrometry, data fusion and algorithm development.
For technical details regarding the “Electronically Collimated Gamma Radiation Detector,” reference the Gamma Radiation Detection Patent Application located at the following link: https://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?PageNum=0&docid=010996354&IDKey=&HomeUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fpdfpiw.uspto.gov%2F.