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Radiation-Detecting Plastic


Laboratory: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)

Technology: A plastic that can detect neutrons, something previously thought impossible

Opportunity: Available for licensing

Details: For years, plastic materials have been used in large detectors for portals and high-energy physics facilities because they are inexpensive, safe, and flexible. However, since they could detect neutrons and gamma rays, but not tell the two apart, they proved unable to distinguish nuclear substances like uranium and plutonium from benign radioactive sources. Until recently, scientists believed that their only choices for detecting neutrons were hazardous, difficult-to-obtain options such as organic crystals, liquid scintillators, or gas detectors that relied on helium-3.

Now, LLNL scientists have created a plastic scintillator that could be far cheaper and more flexible than traditional detectors. The neutron-detecting plastic, which uses a polyvinyltoluene (PVT) polymer matrix loaded with a scintillating dye, can tell neutrons from gamma rays at a 20 percent finer resolution than less attractive options.

Applications: Plastic scintillators could assist with detecting nuclear substances that might be used in improvised nuclear devices, as well as help detect neutrons in major scientific projects. Given the material’s low cost, huge plastic sheets could be formed easily into dramatically larger surface areas than other neutron detectors currently used, and could aid in the protection of ports, stadiums, and other large facilities.

Contact: Catherine Elizondo, Industrial Partnerships Office

View LLNL’s full listing of the technology for more information.

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