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National Security on the Move with High Energy Physics

geddes-editedScientists are developing a portable technology that will safely and quickly detect nuclear material hidden within large objects such as shipping cargo containers or sealed waste drums. The researchers, led by Berkeley Lab scientists, have been awarded over $10 million from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation R&D Office to combine the capabilities of conventional building-size research instruments with the transportable size of a truck for security applications on the go.

A Big Future for Small Accelerators

The core of the detection system is a next-generation source of high-energy photons, often referred to as X-rays or gamma rays. The technology will combine the capabilities of conventional building-size research instruments, such as Duke University’s High Intensity Gamma-Ray Source (HIGS), which precisely control the energy (or color) of the photons generated to improve sensitivity, with the compact size needed for use in most national security applications. The problem with current techniques, such as those used by HIGS, is that there are only a few ways to produce megaelectron-volt (MeV) photons — high-energy photons at energies a million times higher than visible light — within a narrow spread or range of energy, and those usually require an electron accelerator the size of a large building.

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