Air Force

Volume production of state-of-the-art scintillator material

Methods of growing single, bulk substrate of uranium-based crystals of high-purity and significant size


Scintillators, materials that absorb energy from incoming radiation and emit photons when the scintillator returns to its original energy state, are used in radiation detectors, particle detectors, new energy resource exploration, X-ray security, nuclear cameras, computed tomography, and gas exploration. Other applications of scintillators include CT scanners and gamma cameras used in medical diagnostics. Scintillators, which are generally inorganic crystals, are water absorbing and require protection from atmospheric conditions to avoid degradation. Therefore, materials containing uranium oxide or actinide phosphate, have been considered promising as state-of-the-art scintillators because of their characteristic high density, optical clarity, and stability when exposed to atmospheric conditions. Yet, synthesis of single crystals of these new materials has to date been unsuccessful. Part of this difficulty lies in that traditionally, high temperatures in excess of 3,000 degrees C are needed for crystal growth.

Air Force researchers have overcome the above problems with a method which includes combining a uranium-based feedstock with a mineralizer solution under more moderate heat and pressure. The process enables the uranium feedstock to spontaneously form crystals. With a significant amount of nuclear waste produced each year by medical, industrial, and military processes, these materials would fill a large void that exists in current radioactive waste storage and disposal technology.

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