Neutron Detection:Gas-Filled Neutron Detectors


The detector walls for gas-filled detectors,
both thermal or fast, are generally about half a millimeter thick and manufactured from
stainless steel or aluminum and, occasionally in the old days, from brass. The performance of all of these materials
is okay. Stainless steel walls generally absorb about
3% of the neutrons, and aluminum walls absorb a completely negligible amount. Aluminum tubes are generally preferred for
the finest work, because their overall efficiency is a tiny bit larger than those made from
stainless steel. Here is a schematic of the electronics for
a gas-filled neutron detector. This is basically the same thing that we use
for all gas-filled detectors. The lower schematic shows a neutron interaction
with helium-3 nuclei inside the tube, producing a triton, a heavy hydrogen nucleus, and a
proton, a light hydrogen nucleus. The charge produced by these ionizing particles
is collected, fed out through an op-amp, and on to the rest of the electronics. The picture to the right shows a bank of these
gas-filled neutron detectors buried in polyethylene. The hydrogen in the polyethylene, and carbon
to a small extent, is used to moderate fast neutrons, so the probability of them interacting
in the gas of the detectors goes up. Just as with normal gas-filled detectors,
we can have ionization chambers as neutron detectors, the chambers being run in the ion
chamber region. This is often used when we have large neutron
signals, such as monitoring the power of a reactor. We can also run gas-filled neutron detectors
in the proportional region, where we can readily see single neutrons. This is mostly used in research and in detection. And it’s at least theoretically possible
that you could run a detector as a neutron Geiger counter, which you wouldn’t be able
to discriminate against gamma rays.

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