Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering

NRE Seminar


Cherenkov Detectors: from Fundamental Science to National Security Applications


Ms. Anna Erickson Nikiforova


Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)


Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 11:00:00 AM


Boggs Building, Room 3-47, 3rd FL


Dr. Glenn Sjoden
(404) 894-5733


Cherenkov detectors have been primarily used in particle physics applications, often in antineutrino physics and dark matter physics. In addition to fundamental physics, the technology can also be used in more applied areas for reactor safeguards and monitoring as well as remote detection and identification of special nuclear material. The need for large-size detectors for long-range standoff detection has generated interest in water-based detector technologies. This presentation will discuss potential applicability of Cherenkov counters for neutron and gamma detection. Gamma detection in water can be achieved through Cherenkov light generated by Compton scattered electrons. Neutron capture in the detector water can be enhanced by loading the water with materials such as GdCl3 which have large neutron capture cross sections(49,000 barns for natural Gd). The 8 MeV gamma-ray cascade following neutron capture on Gd can provide a neutron signature. This presentation will provide overview of current efforts in remote radiation detection techniques using water-based Cherenkov technologies. Examples of Cherenkov counters in reactor monitoring and active interrogation illustrate the challenges Cherenkov detectors are facing. At high energies and in large (kiloton to multi-kiloton scale), Cherenkov imaging is a well-proven technique. At the lower energies relevant for nuclear material screening, the implementation is more difficult, and remains to be demonstrated. Extending the scale of detectors to the 100 kT range and above could offer possibilities for detection of clandestine reactors at long distances.


Anna Erickson attended Oregon State University where she graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering in June 2006. In September 2006, she began her research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Prof. Neil Todreas on fast liquid metal cooled reactors including thermal hydraulic and core physics design and analysis and accident analysis. She received a Master of Science degree for this work in August 2008 and is currently on track to receive her PhD in June 2011 from the Nuclear Science and Engineering department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been Stewardship Science Graduate Fellow for three years during which time she was working on novel radiation detection systems for national security applications including Cherenkov detectors for standoff active interrogation and remote reactor monitoring.