A device that could improve homeland security, help the military and protect workers in nuclear facilities and hospitals has won a coveted award for a team led by a UMKC professor.
Physics professor Anthony Caruso led a team of 20 student researchers plus researchers at MU-Columbia and Kansas State University and two private companies in taking the product from concept through prototype to production.
Caruso said the concerns over possible terrorism using devices such as “dirty bombs” and the possibility of attempted smuggling of nuclear materials were part of the impetus for the project.
The military and law enforcement groups faced a common problem; devices in use were not sufficiently portable and not sensitive enough.
The “Oscars of Invention” award from R & D Magazine went to the team for developing portable, highly sensitive nuclear material detectors.
It was hoped at the onset that a device could be produced that could scan an entire ship from a distance without boarding – for both secrecy and safety reasons.
Researchers are still working on that problem, but the team was able to come up with light-weight, highly sensitive devices.
New technology allows detection of neutron radiation, whereas older versions looked for gamma radiation. That created problems because it is far easier to shield or block gamma rays so they are not detectable.
Lighter, more sensitive devices have significant safety benefits, both for responders and for workers in the everyday workplace.
Caruso said the old types of devices were bulky and heavy and when searching ships, sailors would often lay them down and leave them behind. Lighter devices make the searches faster and leave hands free for weapons, flashlights, or for climbing shipboard ladders.
And the greater sensitivity of the new technology makes the detectors useful for measuring the amount of radiation exposure present in nuclear power facilities, hospitals and other locations where radiation can be a hazard.
Caruso said the team delved into physics research that dated back to the 1930s, analyzing the implications and possible applications.
“What makes it special,” says Caruso, “is that we closed the loop.”
Kansas City-based U2D Inc., and Manhattan, Kansas-based Radiation Detection Technologies, Inc., are potential producers of the product.
Caruso says the new devices are “almost ahead of their time.” He says it will take a while for agencies and industries to be fully educated and up to speed on the new technological advances and how to use them.
Steve Bell is afternoon newscaster and business news reporter for KCUR. He may be reached at 816-235-5173 or by e-mail as firstname.lastname@example.org