New detector to count 2 to 5 million gamma rays per second

A prototype for an ultrahigh-rate high-purity germanium (HPGe) detector.

Heather Crawford and her team of researchers are developing a prototype for an ultrahigh-rate high-purity germanium detector that can count 2 to 5 million gamma rays per second while maintaining high resolution. (Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab)
Heather Crawford and her team of researchers are developing a prototype for an ultrahigh-rate high-purity germanium detector that can count 2 to 5 million gamma rays per second while maintaining high resolution. (Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab)

Heather Crawford, a staff scientist in the Nuclear Science Division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, along with her colleagues is developing a prototype for an ultrahigh-rate high-purity germanium (HPGe) detector that can count 2 to 5 million gamma rays per second while maintaining high resolution. The team expects to make the detector that enables them to precisely measure the energy spectrum under extreme conditions.

Gamma rays have the smallest wavelengths and the most energy of any wave in the electromagnetic spectrum. They are produced by the hottest and most energetic objects in the universe, such as neutron stars and pulsars, supernova explosions, and regions around black holes. On Earth, gamma waves are generated by nuclear explosions, lightning, and the less dramatic activity of radioactive decay.

Crawford said, “the ultrafast, high-resolution detector will allow scientists to do more research in less time, collecting gamma-ray statistics at 10 to 100 times the rate previously possible. This opens up new possibilities for gamma-ray spectroscopy in the rarest nuclear systems, such as superheavy elements. Whenever you’re doing gamma-ray spectroscopy, it’s about resolution and efficiency – ideally, you want an experiment to run for a couple of weeks, not years.”

With the design for the little yet forceful detector finished a month ago – the device estimates only 3 inches wide and 3 inches tall. Scientists anticipate testing the model, which was created at Berkeley Lab’s Semiconductor Detector Laboratory, as an individual detector, and afterward advancing toward a cluster.