Roy and Niels

Roy and Niels

Monday, January 31, 2011

Making Bubbles: The Particle Way

BTI BubbleTech Industries manufacture neutron detectors intended for personal dosimetry. Theses devices contain a polymer gel holding very small droplets of a superheated gas. When a neutron interacts with these superheated droplets, a phase transition happen from liquid phase to gas phase expanding the volume dramatically - a bubble appears.

The video below demonstrates how such a detector responds to a (weak) Americium-Beryllium neutron source:

The activity of the AmBe source was 2.64E+4 neutrons per second. The detectors we had were calibrated against ICRP-60 in terms of dose equivalent, according to BTI. The sensitivity of the particular detector shown in the video above was about 0.7 bubbles / ┬ÁSv dose equivalent.

The detectors come with an integrated piston which repressurizes them, so they can be reused, however not indefinitely. We used our detectors rarely, and kept them refrigerated. However, after two years the encapsulation/pressurization system leaked.

The bubble detectors can be bought with varying sensitivity ranges and BTI even offers a set of detectors which are sensitive above a varying energy threshold. Deconvoluting the counts in each detector of this set will yield a coarse energy spectrum, in e.g. 6 energy bins.

We have used the these bubble detectors in our antiproton beam line at CERN in order to get a coarse measure of the amount of fast neutrons emitted from the antiproton annihilation. We used both the personal dosimeter type and the BDS spectrometer.

The picture above show how multiple personal dosimeter detectors are places at a certain distance from the annihilation vertex.

Unfortunately we had some trouble interpreting the results from the spectrometer. The BDS spectrometer counts seemed to be simply unphysical and a spectrum could not be deconvoluted. The readings from the personal dosimeter also seemed to be off by an order of magnitude.

After some investigations we started to suspect that these bubble detectors were not only sensitive to fast neutrons, but also to charged particles, such as protons. From the antiproton annihilation we do get a similar amount of protons and a threefold multiplicity of energetic pions, which have a long range, far beyond the position of the bubble detectors.

A paper in NIM B, which was published a few years ago by us, lists our findings. Basically we conclude that the sensitivity (# of neutrons per bubble) is quite comparable to that for protons, and perhaps a bit less for pions. The proton part we could test at our storage ring, ASTRID, which we have in the basement of our Physics Department in Aarhus.

In the video you are about to see, we extract a few million protons at about 50 MeV from the synchrotron. The bubble detector here is immersed in a water bath.

The range of the protons are clearly visible. A distinct Bragg peak does not really form, the effect is primarily related to nuclear interaction cross sections.

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