Imaging and Detection of Radioactive Material - Portable Gamma Ray Imaging Spectrometer (PGRIS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Physics


Terrorist threats to the UK take many forms, often abbreviated to CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive). This project will produce a prototype of an advanced type of hand-held radiation detector capable of imaging and accurate spectroscopy, which is relevant to the last three of these areas. Our device can identify precisely and locate radioactive materials that emit gamma rays. Our portable gamma-ray imaging spectrometer will be used to track down and characterise the radiation which has triggered a general purpose portal scanner.
The radiological threat comes from what are sometimes called "dirty bombs" or more generally from any method used to release radioactive material in such a way as to cause a threat to the general public. In order to deal with the radiological threat it is necessary to be able to locate and identify radioactive materials quickly. In addition, in the event that a dirty bomb is exploded, it is vital to be able to monitor the effects by establishing what radiation was emitted and its location.
The nuclear threat comes from nuclear weapons proliferation and in this case the need is to detect special nuclear materials (Uranium and Plutonium). Our device will be able to detect and locate the weak gamma rays emitted by these materials.
Explosives cannot be detected directly by a radiation detector because they normally do not emit gamma rays. However, if they are bombarded by neutrons then they will be activated and will emit characteristic gamma rays, which enable them to be detected and identified. The same technique can be used to search for illegal drugs.
There are already portable radiation detectors, but generally these use scintillators to detect gamma radiation and so the energy resolution is limited which means that gamma rays that are close in energy cannot be distinguished from each other. An alternative is to use Germanium for the detector element. In this case the resolution is very good, but the detector is very expensive and Germanium only operates well as a detector when it is cooled to temperatures around -200C. Our detector uses a semiconductor called Cadmium Zinc Telluride (CZT) which works well as a detector at room temperature. It has much better energy resolution that scintillators and is nearly as good as Germanium. There are a few other portable detectors using CZT detectors, but none which combine this good spectroscopic resolution (for identifying materials by their characteristic gamma-ray energy) with imaging capability to locate the sources of the radioactivity.

Planned Impact

The ultimate goal of this proposal is to develop a portable gamma-ray imaging device for use in security applications. This instrument will enable detection and characterisation of radioactive materials entering the UK or in transit or storage within it. There are a number of groups of users who may benefit if this instrument is successfully developed and brought to market:
Instrument manufacturers; UK government and public; Companies needing to run security checks on vehicles or cargo, e.g. port authorities, air freight hubs, police, coastguards, armed forces; Staff tasked with carrying out such security checks; STFC and University of Liverpool; Nuclear industry.
The key impact of this project is that it will de-risk the process of bringing to market a portable directional gamma-radiation detector. Currently there are several hand-held radiation detectors including some with a degree of spectroscopic performance, but most devices are scintillator based (sacrificing resolution performance for lower price) and a few are Germanium based (providing good performance but very expensive). We are not aware of a portable spectroscopic detector on the market with imaging capability.

Instrument Manufacturers:
Two companies have already expressed interest in our concept. We have talked in detail to Kromek and Redlen who confirm that it will be demonstrating performance that can be delivered within the correct price range that is crucial to the success of the concept.
If this instrument is taken into commercial production then the instrument manufacturer who licenses it and completes its development benefits from a novel and improved product to offer. Companies who will gain access to this technology will be able to bring industrially engineered devices to market based on our prototype.
The aim would be a commercial instrument to be marketed at about $20,000, with the expectation that it could capture a good proportion of the NaI(Tl) market, as it will have better energy resolution as well as imaging capability, and some of the Ge market.

The UK government and public:
Detecting radioactive sources attempting to enter the UK, transiting through the UK, or in storage somewhere within the UK will become easier with this device. The increased throughput and easier location capabilities could also facilitate more searches. Increased detection levels have a significant benefit to the government and the public if a radioactive attack is prevented. Awareness of better detection capabilities also deters terrorists from attempting such an attack.

Companies needing to run security checks:
This device will enable companies and agencies to maximise throughput levels at ports, cargo hubs, border crossings etc. and may also result in fewer identifier devices and lower staffing levels.

Staff tasked with carrying out such checks:
Currently once a radioactive source has been found, e.g. in a container of cargo, staff then need to sweep the container with handheld detectors to identify exactly where it is located. Our instrument will greatly speed up the process of locating and characterising the source and so will reduce staff exposure.

STFC and University of Liverpool:
Success of this project is expected to generate licensing opportunities for aspects of the technology developed in the course of the research and prototyping. Success is expected to also lead to further interaction with key players in the security industry and potentially to other collaborations.

Nuclear Industry:
Our detector could be used in the nuclear industry, for instance in mapping the location of radioactive sources in high dose environments, when it is not safe to send a person to do a conventional survey, or in helping to indentify theft of radioactive sources from nuclear sites.


10 25 50
Description A room temperature Compton Gamma-ray imager technical demonstrator as been realised.
Exploitation Route In collaboration with the MET police as end users. Two commercial companies are working with STFC and UoL on full commercalisation.
Sectors Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description The imager technical demonstrator has been developed. The UK design council have facilitated a full product design. The product design has been presented at a number of national and international stakeholder events. The device is in the process of being commercialised.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Energy,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description IPS-3 
Organisation Metropolitan Police Service
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Work with the MET to understand the radiation detection requirements.
Collaborator Contribution Access to facilities and personnel to understand the challenges associated with radiation detection and measurement within the MET police.
Impact Development of technologies and algorithms to meet end user requirements.
Start Year 2015
Title Compton Imaging algorithms 
Description Novel Compton Imaging algorithms to reconstruct 3D image data 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Improvements in image quality/sensitivity and fusion 
Description Advances in semiconductor sensors, Gamma-ray imaging systems, South Dakota, USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact International conference on germanium detector systems.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Cross-Government Security Research Briefing Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Cross Government Briefing data on Nuclear Security. Link with UK and US Government officials has led to opportunities to exploit STFC technology at an international level.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Forensic KTN event (London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact KTN event on Forensics. Provided key showcase for STFC technology with industry insiders and experts. Invited plenary presentation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description NNL Technical Seminar Series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact National Nuclear Laboratory Technical Seminar series. Presenting projects that define the technology roadmap going forward. Raised profile of STFC technology opportunities within the nuclear sector.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Physics INNOVATE 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Physics INNOVATE was run as part of the international festival of business. Held in Liverpool at the Convention Centre (2016) and the Town Hall (2015). The event showcased the key UoL and STFC technologies to a broad range of industry. A number of new projects have commenced following these events.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016