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U.S. Navy scientists have recently invented a high-efficiency silicon-on-insulator (SOI) neutron detector that has high immunity to gamma-ray generated carriers, fast rise time response, low capacitance to enable high sensitivity, and the ability to detect either thermal or fast neutrons. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.
For decades, neutron detection technology has not evolved significantly. Helium-3 proportional counters tend to be bulky, expensive, and have slow response times. They also require very high voltages to operate. Semiconductor detectors are limited by short travel distances before depositing the majority of its energy in the detector material. And GaAs detectors have a relatively small area.
In response, Navy scientists have developed a solid-state SOI detector that utilizes Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) manufacturing techniques to fabricate large area, low cost, neutron detector arrays. The SOI detector can detect either thermal neutrons or fast neutrons depending on the converter layer used.
The detector features low capacitance achieved by using high resistivity (>10,000 ohm-cm) silicon material for both the thin active semiconductor device layer and thick silicon handle substrate that enable large depletion widths, large area 10 cm×10 cm detector array (100 cm2 per array), and low cost using a 150 mm diameter CMOS/CCD foundry. Cost is further reduced for volume production since the SOI neutron detector is simple with only six mask process steps as opposed to VLSI, which typically have as many as 30 masking steps.
The SOI detector arrays offer an important opportunity for the detection of shielded special nuclear material. And, with its rugged, low cost, large area detection form factor, a very large neutron detector array would be invaluable as a portal monitor.
- Compatible with higher temperature operations
- Compatible with on-chip CMOS readout amplifiers
- Provides fast transient response to enable neutron counting
- Appropriate for hand held design
- Light weight, low power, rugged, and relatively inexpensive
- Works with a variety of semiconductor materials
- Businesses can commercialize the technology by licensing U.S. Patent 7,902,513 from the Navy
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