NETL Services

NETL Services

Services provided by the NETL are available to researchers at the University of Texas, other State and regional institutions, and industry.  Major areas of emphasis for NETL include training and education, measuring the distribution of elements in a material, elemental analysis, and imaging with neutrons. Some measurement sensitivities and some specifications are provided below, with more comprehensive descriptions of each capability and technique on individual pages.  If you are interested in exploring the use of NETL capabilities in research or industrial activities, please contact NETL staff.


chart of naa detection limits with limit in left column, elements for delayed naa in the middle column, and elements for prompt gamma activation analysis on the right

 

chart of ndp sensitivity showing reaction, abundance, enegery of emitted particles, useful range of silicon, cross section, and detection limit

 

 

chart of beam port fluxes with beam ports in the left column, usage in the middle, and flux on the right

The NETL can support reactor operator training, general nuclear reactor training and orientation, engineering education, and training on specific aspects of capabilities used a the facility such as gamma spectroscopy.

Personnel responsible for manipulating the controls of a nuclear reactor licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) are required to hold a license.  The USNRC conducts written and practical examination of license candidates for the NETL reactor, and the NETL has a rigorous training program to ensure the candidates are ready for the examinations. While the NETL training is facility specific, the experience can support commercial nuclear power plant reactor operator candidates in preparing for license examination.  NETL facility staff has supported student preparation for USNRC General Fundamentals Examination of license candidates, and for license examination.

Nuclear and Radiation engineering faculty conduct courses in engineering measurement of reactor characteristics and health physics/radiological controls.  Much of this academic effort applies directly to fulfilling requirements for license and certification, or to job functions in nuclear-related industries. 

Some elements produce charged particles with characteristic energy in neutron interactions.

Neutron capture prompt gamma activation analysis (PGAA) is a rapid, nondestructive, instrumental, nuclear technique which is used for trace and major component analysis of various elements.

Introduction

Neutron radiography uses the unique interaction probabilities of neutrons to create images of materials. This imaging technique is non-destructive; however, samples receive significant radiation exposure. X-rays are attenuated best by materials with large atoms and not well by small, light ones. This allows x-rays to pass through the water in a human body easily and attenuate in bones. Conversely, neutrons move through high Z material easily and are attenuated well by low Z materials, such as water. 

diagram of xray and neutron movement through various materials with numbers getting larger from left to right

Much like x-rays neutrons can be used to create images of the internal characteristics of an object.  Neutron radiography is typically used to create images of non-hydrogenous materials due to the fact that a neutron beam can pass through a significant amount of non-hydrogenous material without being completely attenuated. Materials made of heavier elements such as iron, silicon, or lead make good samples because changes in the thickness of these materials cause small but measurable changes in the neutron flux.

Experimental Setup

The neutron radiography system is located at beam port five of UT TRIGA reactor, located at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. Beam port five is tangential to the reactor and it provides a high intensity, fast, collimated beam of neutrons. Samples are placed in front of a phosphor scintillation screen. Neutrons pass through the sample and strike the scintillation screen. Neutrons ionize the phosphorus in the screen, which cause it to produce flashes of light. The flashes of light are recorded by a camera and converted to numbers in a matrix. Figure 1 describes the configuration of the neutron radiography system.

diagram of the configuration of neutron radiography system from source to collimator to object to detector

Figure 1. Neutron radiography system.

The neutron source and collimator for these experiments are the TRIGA reactor and beam port five. The object in the figure above represents the sample that is to be imaged. The detector houses the scintillation screen, camera, and electronics to digitize the image and send it to the computer. The computer used in the radiography facility has a PCI card that allows it to receive the digitized images and record them. Labview is the software that is used to control the PCI card.

Longer exposure times increase the fidelity of the images. However, exposure times exceeding 10 milliseconds may lead to saturation, where entire sections of the image receive the maximum number of photons. In order to produce high fidelity images and circumvent saturation problems, several low quality 10 millisecond images are averaged together to create a single high quality image. Figure 2 shows the image quality difference between images produced from 1, 10, and 100 ten millisecond snapshots.

image showing quality produced from 1 ten millisecond snapshotimage showing quality produced from 10 ten millisecond snapshotimage showing quality produced from 100 ten millisecond snapshot

Figure 2. Images with 1 10 and 100, 10 millisecond snapshots.

Results

Several radiography images of four common metallic objects are presented below. Each image was produced by averaging 100 ten millisecond snapshots together. Radiography equipment is set up to generate several text files that each containing a matrix of numbers. The size of the numbers within the matrix is proportional to the quantity of photons emitted by the phosphorus screen at a given area. The text files are manipulated and averaged together within MATLAB to produce a jpeg image. Several different colormaps are available within MATLAB. The choice of colormap can emphasize different areas of an image. Several images are acquired before the sample is put in place so the presence of a significant flux gradient within the neutron beam can be negated. Images with and without background modifications are presented so one can judge the effect of the flux gradient within the beam on the unmodified image.

Sample 1 - Combination Lock

combonation lock with ruler below

with background / grayscale colormap with background / jet colormap

greyscale view of combonation lock inner workings jet colormap view of combonation lock inner workings

without background / grayscale colormap without background / hot colormap

greyscale view of combonation lock inner workings hot colormap view of combonation lock inner workings

without background / jet colormap without background / copper colormap

greyscale view of combonation lock inner workings copper colormap view of combonation lock inner workings

Sample 2 - Pocket Watch

pocket watch with ruler beneath for scale

with background / grayscale colormap with background / jet colormap

greyscale view of pocket watch inner workings jet colormap view of pocket watch inner workings

without background / grayscale colormap without background / hot colormap

greyscale view of pocket watch inner workings hot colormap view of pocket watch inner workings

without background / jet colormap without background / copper colormap

jet colormap view of pocket watch inner workings copper colormap view of pocket watch inner workings

Sample 3 - Toggle Switch

view of toggle lock inner workings

with background / grayscale colormap with background / jet colormap

greyscale view of toggle lock inner workings jet colormap view of toggle lock inner workings

without background / grayscale colormap without background / hot colormap

greyscale view of toggle lock inner workings hot colormap view of toggle lock inner workings

without background / jet colormap without background / copper colormap

jet colormap view of toggle lock inner workings copper colormapview of toggle lock inner workings

Sample - Circuit Board

view of circuit board with ruler

with background / grayscale colormap with background / jet colormap

greyscale view of circuit board inner workings jet colormap view of circuit board inner workings

without background / grayscale colormap without background / hot colormap

without background / jet colormap without background / copper colormap

Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) is one of the most sensitive methods used to measure the concentration of trace amounts of many elements in a variety of sample types. In NAA, a sample is bombarded with neutrons, resulting in the production of a radioactive isotope of the element of interest. Gamma rays emitted by the radioactive isotope are then analyzed. The energy associated with the radiation is characteristic of the radioactive isotope, and hence it is used for element identification i.e., qualitative analysis. The number of gamma rays emitted is correlated to the number of atoms present in the sample, i.e., quantitative analysis.