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Science Technology

Teen Builds Nuclear Bomb Detector 210

DaneM writes "An enterprising teenage boy named Taylor Wilson, 17, has created a homemade, hand-held nuclear bomb detector. It utilizes a small fusion reactor that he made when he was 14, and detects nuclear materials by shooting neutrons at closed containers and exciting any nuclear materials inside — which, in turn, causes more radiation to be produced, and is detected by the device. This may provide a simpler, more effective alternative to searching containers visually, one-at-a-time. No information is given about how safe such a practice is. Taylor also has some choice things to say about how science is, in fact, very cool."
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Teen Builds Nuclear Bomb Detector

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  • by Unsichtbarer_Mensch ( 710092 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @04:41AM (#36483808)
    So this dude 'reinvented' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutron_activation_analysis [wikipedia.org] and solved the problem of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_fusion.Ra-ha-ight [wikipedia.org].... Yet if we just assume that he uses a regular neutron source like Californium 252 - so no breakthroughs in fusion physics are involved- it would still be interesting to see how he processes the data from the detectors. Maybe that's where the innovation lies.
  • by Captain Segfault ( 686912 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @05:09AM (#36483926) Homepage Journal

    Fusors [wikipedia.org] are a standard neutron source, and they're fairly straightforward to build.

    The idea that you could throw hydrogen ions at each other with enough energy to fuse is fairly obvious. It turns out that the obvious ways of doing so are orders of magnitude short of generating net power, but they do generate neutrons.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, 2011 @05:16AM (#36483958)

    Seriously, people. Click all the way through to his actual article. Gods of Kobol--this is slashdot! Do it for Science!

    Not cold fusion. Not Science Fiction. Certainly not as exciting as it sounds.
    His fusion reactor:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnsworth_fusor [wikipedia.org]

  • Re:No kidding (Score:3, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday June 18, 2011 @05:50AM (#36484070) Homepage Journal

    Fusion is actually trivial to achieve. Thousands of people have built units in their garage.. it's a common science fair project.

    Perhaps you're confused because you've heard that an effective fusion power plant is an area of active research and not currently available and have incorrectly assumed that this somehow implies that fusion must be hard.

    You're wrong, and I hope you feel like an idiot now for being so smug.

  • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @05:52AM (#36484076) Homepage

    I assure you, the people at Nature already know about the Farnsworthâ"Hirsch fusor.

  • Re:No kidding (Score:5, Informative)

    by SEE ( 7681 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @05:59AM (#36484090) Homepage

    I assure you, Farnsworthâ"Hirsch fusors exist, fit the dictionary definition of "reactor", are well within the capabilities of teenagers to build, and do emit neutrons.

    And I also assure you that when you bombard fissile material with neutrons, its rate of activity goes up, and that increase in activity makes it easier to detect the fissile material with radiation detectors.

  • Re:No kidding (Score:5, Informative)

    by The Master Control P ( 655590 ) <[ejkeever] [at] [nerdshack.com]> on Saturday June 18, 2011 @06:02AM (#36484098)
    The operating principle is given in the second sentence of the goddamn summary: Fire neutrons in, watch radiation from activation products. As others have pointed out, otherwise known as Neutron Activation Spectroscopy.
  • Re:No kidding (Score:4, Informative)

    by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @09:19AM (#36484766) Homepage

    People have accidentally made supercritical masses before. You can't just lump a sufficient amount of plutonium into one spot and magically it's a bomb.

    Nope. It'll seriously mess up your day [wikipedia.org], but a bomb it ain't.

  • Re:Reality check (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 18, 2011 @10:26AM (#36485074)

    Taylor attends The Davidson Academy. A secondary school for profoundly gifted youth on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. My wife is his chemistry teacher. The Academy and University have a mutually advantageous relationship that allows motivated students like Taylor access to advanced resources not customarily accessible to the typical high school student.

  • by ThunderBird89 ( 1293256 ) <zalanmeggyesi&yahoo,com> on Saturday June 18, 2011 @10:51AM (#36485184)

    You might have misunderstood me. I didn't mean passive neutron radiation detectors, I meant something like this kid built: an active scanner, that's capable of analyzing the contents of the crate without opening it (that's what the article implies). I go a bit further, the real news is not making this, it's how he crunches the data to get the contents from the reflected neutron flux/induced radiation pattern, whichever he uses.
    A passive neutron scanner is all dandy and fine, but can be defeated with shielding. This active scanner, developed far enough for sensitivity/crunching capacity, could detect the presence of shielding (though not its contents), which itself would be grounds for suspicion. The passive scanner would just indicate a zero or very low flux, which might be mistaken for background radiation or other, similarly innocuous, explanation.

    Chill the f*ck out, and respond civilly, I did not insult you.

  • Fusor, not reactor (Score:5, Informative)

    by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @11:19AM (#36485352) Journal
    I would guess that it is a Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor [wikipedia.org] which is a commercially produced device to produce free neutrons. In terms of application I'd be a little concerned what this device is used to probe. Neutrons are readily absorbed by many nuclei and can produce radioactive isotopes. So scanning an object will result in making it radioactive. While I would hope the number of neutrons required would be small, and so the activation minimal, this is still probably a concern for foodstuffs since radioactive material is a lot more dangerous inside the body than outside. Same applies for clothing too probably.

    The other issue is that since a nuclear device is a sub-critical mass of fissile material bombarding it with enough neutrons may actually make it supercritical while it is in the beam if the beam balances the neutrons lost. This would let you "detect" the bomb put perhaps not in a very constructive way...although again I would guess that the number of neutrons used for scanning would probably be too small to do this.
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday June 18, 2011 @12:22PM (#36485698) Homepage

    This process is called neutron activation analysis. [wikipedia.org] It's well known. The practical problems are 1) not putting in so many neutrons that the tested object becomes radioactive, and 2) detecting enough emitted particles in a reasonable length of time. There's an obvious tradeoff there. The second problem is solvable with a large number of detectors, which probably means a portal or tunnel setup, rather than a hand-held device.

    Here's a commercial luggage screening machine [rateclab.com] from Russia which includes nuclear material detection by neutron activation, along with regular explosive detection.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.