Neutron techniques complement X-ray diffraction techniques in their ability to precisely locate hydrogen and light atoms in various materials. This information is critical for determining the structure and function of proteins and for the discovery of biological processes taking place on a sub-molecular level, the knowledge of which is necessary in the fields of enzymology, functional genomics, bioenergetics, and structural biology. The advent of high flux pulsed neutron sources and portable laboratory sources will allow researchers to use this unique probe for detailed functional studies of biological matter. Unfortunately, however, the current state of the art area detector technology has significant performance limitations in terms of sensitivity, position resolution, and count rate capability, logistic complications, or non-real-time output. Relatively new digital readout technologies have potential to overcome many of these limitations, but unfortunately they are limited by the current neutron-sensitive scintillator technology. Current scintillators are associated with a tradeoff between detection efficiency and spatial resolution;have low discrimination between neutron and 3-ray events, and are slow in response. The development of new scintillators that overcome these difficulties and provide enhanced signal-to-noise ratios will result in improved detectors that will play a vital role in the effective utilization of neutron sources to facilitate important discoveries. We propose to address limitations of the current neutron scintillator technology by developing a large area, low cost, structured scintillator that can simultaneously provide very high spatial resolution, high detection efficiency, low sensitivity to gamma radiation, and fast temporal response. Furthermore, structured nature of the proposed scintillator will minimize lateral spread of scintillation light, thereby providing images with superior contrast. The novel scintillator thus developed will be integrated into the current digital readouts to demonstrate fabrication of detectors that will fulfill the demanding needs of the current and planned experiments at various institutions around the globe by conducting tests at such national laboratories as ORNL and NIST. The commercialization efforts will be undertaken in collaboration with an industrial partner who has well established production capabilities and marketing groups around the globe.

Public Health Relevance

Neutron radiography and diffraction are used in many important medical and non-medical imaging applications, yet its full potential is far from realized today because of the lack of suitable high-performance sensors and detectors. The proposed high spatial resolution structured scintillator, when used in conjunction with a high-resolution photodetector or other readout, will result in a high-performance neutron detector with very low gamma-ray sensitivity. The novel scintillator proposed here will advance the state of the art in neutron imaging for such important applications as determining the structure and function of proteins, and for the discovery of biological processes taking place on a sub-molecular level, the knowledge of which is necessary for the development of advanced drugs and treatments for cancer, AIDS, heart disease and other serious illnesses. Additionally, novel detectors based on the proposed neutron sensor will be of critical importance for our national security, for threat detection and reduction, and in the areas of advanced materials research. A detector based on the proposed scintillator will significantly enhance the sensitivity, image quality and usefulness of neutron imaging systems, while reducing their cost.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)
Small Business Innovation Research Grants (SBIR) - Phase II (R44)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BCMB-A (10))
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Swain, Amy L
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Radiation Monitoring Devices, Inc.
United States
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