Remote detection of radioactive material using mid-IR laser–driven electron avalanche

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Science Advances  22 Mar 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 3, eaav6804
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav6804


Remote detection of a distant, shielded sample of radioactive material is an important goal, but it is made difficult by the finite spatial range of the decay products. Here, we present a proof-of-principle demonstration of a remote detection scheme using mid-infrared (mid-IR) (λ = 3.9 μm) laser–induced avalanche breakdown of air. In the scheme’s most basic version, we observe on-off breakdown sensitivity to the presence of an external radioactive source. In another realization of the technique, we correlate the shift of the temporal onset of avalanche to the degree of seed ionization from the source. We present scaling of the interaction with laser intensity, verify observed trends with numerical simulations, and discuss the use of mid-IR laser–driven electron avalanche breakdown to detect radioactive material at range.

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