News Story

New Detection for Concealed Radioactive Materials

Professor Victor Granatstein (ECE/IREAP) and Research Scientist Gregory S. Nusinovich (IREAP) have proposed a scheme for detecting concealed radioactive materials without searching shipping containers one by one.

The concept, described in a recent article co-authored by Granatstein and Nusinovich in the Journal of Applied Physics, is based on the gamma-ray emission from the radioactive material that would pass through the shipping container walls and ionize the surrounding air. The breakdown of the air in a focused beam of high-power radiation would indicate the presence of the radioactive material. The gamma rays coming through the container walls could be detected by a pulsed electromagnetic source.

Detection of radioactive material concealed in shipping containers is important in the early prevention of "dirty" bomb construction.

The team evaluated several candidate sources for this detection.

"It is not yet clear whether this approach to detection of nuclear material is practical," said Prof. Granatstein, "but it is worth pursuing, since it might impact an important need related to national security."

The article describing the research, titled "Detecting Excess Ionizing Radiation by Electromagnetic Breakdown of Air," by Victor L. Granatstein and Gregory S. Nusinovich, appears in the Journal of Applied Physics, and can be accessed at

Published November 9, 2010