X-Ray imaging has proven invaluable in a host of military and commercial applications—from spotting tiny cracks in aircraft wings, to making medical diagnoses, to scanning passengers’ bags to keep the flying public safe. X-ray radiography can highlight heavier chemical elements very well it’s not very good at revealing lighter elements, such as hydrogen. That’s why X-ray radiography machines are generally “blind” to water or other liquids.
By contrast, neutron radiography which uses neutrons to image objects is very good at visualizing lighter elements and liquids, in some cases even identifying a substance’s atomic makeup. Unfortunately, neutron sources are not nearly as portable and practical as X-ray machines, typically extending up to tens of meters in length and requiring powerful energy sources to generate the neutrons.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) new Intense and Compact Neutron Sources (ICONS) program seeks to develop a portable unit able to generate both neutrons and X-rays. Such a device would harness the complementary strengths of the two imaging sources and enable much more detailed radiography in field settings. ICONS could enable non-destructive evaluation of military equipment with greater fidelity than x-rays, revealing water penetration and corrosion in aircraft wings and welds on ships.
“We’re looking for innovative designs and construction methods to shrink a neutron accelerator from 10 m or longer down to 1 m or less, similar to the size of portable x-ray tubes today,” said Vincent Tang, DARPA program manager.
The ICONS program seeks expertise in accelerator and plasma science, high-voltage engineering, enabling multi-function materials, integrated design optimization, and pulsed power.
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