Firm to Commercialize Nuclear Detection Technology

Princeton University and InSitech, Inc. have signed a licensing agreement for InSitech to commercialize an anti-terrorism device developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). The device, the Miniature Integrated Nuclear Detection System (MINDS), would have applications in transportation and site security. MINDS would be used to scan moving vehicles, luggage, cargo vessels, and the like for specific nuclear signatures associated with materials employed in radiological weapons. The system could be employed at workplace entrances, post offices, tollbooths, airports, and commercial shipping ports, as well as in police cruisers, to detect the transportation of unauthorized nuclear materials.

“We are very pleased that technology we have developed through our fusion research at PPPL can also make an important contribution to Homeland Security. This is a very good example of the kind of cooperation that can be most effective for the nation,” said PPPL Director Rob Goldston.

A team of PPPL researchers led by Charles Gentile designed a prototype system and InSitech, through the licensing agreement signed March 28, has certain rights to the commercial development, manufacture, use, and sale of the product.

InSitech is a not-for-profit organization working for the U.S. Army to bring government-developed technology to market. InSitech’s Chief Executive Officer Timothy N. Teen said, “We enjoy our relationship with the Princeton-PPPL team and are proud of our involvement with MINDS. This agreement typifies InSitech’s initiative to transfer federally-funded technology into the commercial sector.”

MINDS, which combines many off-the-shelf components with specific nuclear detection software, is capable of detecting X-rays, soft gammas, gammas, and neutrons. The system is specifically designed to identify, in real-time, gamma emitting radionuclides at levels slightly above background and in radiologically noisy environments. Radionuclides can be recognized and differentiated from one another since each has a distinctive energy signature or “fingerprint.” MINDS compares the energy spectrum of the detected radionuclide with the spectra of particular radiological materials that might be used in weapons. While InSitech proceeds with commercialization of the product, PPPL will continue to develop the library for MINDS, collecting data for radionuclides.

The MINDS system is configured to employ a lap-top computer and can also be used with other types of processors for the storage of radionuclide databases. The unit uses proprietary detection software, and three different radiation detectors, or heads, to cover a wide gamut of nuclear signatures. It would typically be able to detect radiation — dependent on source quantity — from several feet away and would identify the type of radiation, but not specifically the quantity. System hardware could be configured with one, two, or more heads to suit the needs of law enforcement and Homeland Security officials. For instance, airport officials might be interested in detecting materials such as cobalt or cesium that could be used in a “dirty” bomb. At tollbooths or in police cruisers, the system would be tuned to recognize but not sound an alarm for radioactive materials with legal uses such as medical radioisotopes. It will be programmed to respond only to signatures of threat-specific radionuclides, greatly minimizing false positive alarms. MINDS also would be able to detect some shielded materials since shielding often results in the generation of X-rays of certain energies.

“The MINDS system is a sophisticated solution that can identify — not just detect — in real time, one-one-billionth of the material required in a dirty bomb, yet it is cost effective, easy to use, and can be deployed as a stand-alone device or as part of a larger system. MINDS has achieved successful results in field trials, and we have recently secured extended demonstrations, and full-scale deployments, with customers and government agencies to further validate this compelling breakthrough,” said Teen.

Once a unit is in place, law enforcement agencies would incorporate it into an alerting system. For example, it could be set up at a tollbooth so that when a suspicious vehicle is detected, a picture would be taken, and an e-mail or wireless alert would be sent to authorities. The vehicle could then be stopped a short distance beyond the tollbooth.

PPPL, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and managed by Princeton University, is a collaborative national center for science and innovation leading to an attractive fusion energy source. Fusion is the process that powers the sun and the stars. In the interior of stars, matter is converted into energy by the fusion, or joining, of the nuclei of light atoms to form heavier elements.

From Princeton University

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