Friday, January 22, 2016

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New x-ray machine can detect nuclear material hidden in cargo containers

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln believe their portable X-ray machine can see radioactive material even when it's hidden.

The physicists developed a laser-driven X-ray that can detect uranium as small as a nickel hidden behind 3 inches of steel.

The research, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, could be used to help inspectors detect nuclear materials attempted to
be smuggled inside any one of the 100 million-plus cargo containers shipped around world each year. It cannot only see uranium, but other explosives
as well.

"We're able to find that needle in the haystack with this new type of x-ray source, which we developed here at UNL," said Donald Umstadter, director of the Diocles Extreme Light Lab. "Anything that is invisible normally, we can now see. Not only did Superman have X-ray vision, he was also small and fast, and that's what we need to do with our device."

Umstadter believes they can make the X-ray small enough to fit into a van, maybe even placed in a drone. And because it uses laser technology, it
can shoot a beam long distances, emitting lower levels of radiation that make it safer for workers
or bystanders.

Photo credit: Craig Chandler, UNL Communications

"You want the freedom to look at cargo containers anywhere in the world under any circumstances, and we think this technology provides you with that freedom," Umstadter said.

Umstadter and Shouyuan Chen (pictured above), a UNL research assistant professor of physics and astronomy, presented their findings at the International Meeting on Laser-Driven Radiation Sources for Nuclear Applications at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 15. An article describing their findings will appear in the January issue of the journal Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, B.

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