ORNL’s newly licensed neutron detector will advance research

A neutron detector developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be used by an Indiana-based company for research in a variety of scientific fields, helping, for example, in the development of new drugs.

The neutron detector, the Neutron-Sensitive Anger Camera, has been licensed by PartTec Ltd. of Indiana, an ORNL press release said.

The press release said previous neutron detectors struggled to resolve crystals smaller than two millimeters, but ORNL’s system can clearly detect one millimeter and smaller crystals. That’s important for both biological crystals and small crystals subject to extremely high pressures.

The release said the detector allows researchers to study a wider variety of crystalline structures, supporting studies in biology, earth science, geology, materials science, and condensed matter physics. It achieves very high efficiency, high timing, and position resolution and low background noise at a reduced cost—all characteristics that make it attractive for medical, biological, and general scientific research.

“This ORNL detector system, developed for DOE’s Spallation Neutron Source, can determine the time and position of the neutrons captured, enabling extremely accurate neutron time-of-flight measurements,” said Yacouba Diawara of the Instrument and Source Design Division at ORNL.

Richard Riedel of the Instrument and Source Design Division at ORNL said the detector is suited for biological samples because the protein crystals scientists are interested in are very small, about the size of a grain of sand.

“No other neutron detectors are suited for viewing these complex proteins at a pulsed neutron source,” Riedel said.

The ORNL research team optimized an existing technology called the Anger Camera—named after its inventor, Hal Oscar Anger—by improving the detector’s ability to view the atomic structure of crystals, such as those composed of protein macromolecules.

“It turns out there are a number of proteins and enzymes that don’t form very large crystals,” Riedel said. “The push in neutron science has been to design devices that can detect smaller and smaller crystals—down to half a millimeter.”

PartTec CEO Herschel Workman said the company was pleased to be able to manufacture and market the Anger Camera, which will help researchers expand current medical boundaries.

“Their work, in turn, will help those in need to find medical answers and options previously unavailable to them,” Workman said.

The system was developed by Riedel, Diawara, Theodore Visscher, Lloyd Clonts, Cornelius Donahue Jr., and Christopher Montcalm of ORNL’s Neutron Sciences Directorate.

PartTec was founded in 2002 and specializes in neutron detection technology and in the design, development, and manufacture of non-Helium-3 neutron detectors for laboratories, as well as Helium-3 replacement technologies for detector manufacturers and their customers. The company is headquartered in Bloomington, Ind., with a manufacturing facility in Linton, Ind., the release said.

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