Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


The Advanced Instrumentation Testbed (AIT) is a new facility, to be sited in the Boulby Underground Laboratory, that aims to explore new technologies for the purposes of nuclear non-proliferation and particle physics. The first phase of AIT is the WATer CHerenkov Monitor for Anti-Neutrinos (WATCHMAN). WATCHMAN construction is primarily funded through the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). UK involvement is a partnership between our industrial partners in the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), the STFC-Boulby laboratory, and the Universities of Sheffield, Edinburgh, and Liverpool.

The WATCHMAN detector is a technology demonstrator, which will attempt the first monitoring of nuclear reactors from a standoff distance of tens of kilometres. The mechanism for this monitoring is anti-neutrino detection. Nuclear reactions all produce a large flux of anti-neutrinos, which cannot be shielded. The WATCHMAN detector combines the decades-old technology of water Cherenkov neutrino detectors with the new technique of gadolinium loading. Adding gadolinium to the detector makes it sensitive to the neutron that is produced in an anti-neutrino interaction, but not a low-energy neutrino interaction. As such, the coincident signature of positron plus neutron can be used to tag anti-neutrinos.

If successful, the techniques pioneered by WATCHMAN could be used to search for clandestine nuclear reactors as a means of non-proliferation and nuclear threat reduction.

The AIT also includes a significant component of research and development into new detection materials and technologies. For this purpose, AIT will be investigating fast photosensors such as the Large Area Picosecond Photo-Detector (LAPPD), and new detector materials, such as water-based liquid scintillator. These can be used in future phases of the project to enhance the reactor detection range, as well as to enable particle physics goals such as geoneutrino studies and searches for neutrinoless double-beta decay.

Planned Impact

First and foremost, WATCHMAN is an impact project. The primary sponsor is the US National Nuclear Security Administration, which has committed $33M of US funding for the construction of WATCHMAN. The technology demonstrated by WATCHMAN is aimed at field deployment in regions where it is felt there may be clandestine nuclear reactors. The main goal of this project is impact, using particle physics techniques developed over the past four decays, and re-purposing them for practical use. In this case, the impact goal is nuclear threat reduction and non-proliferation.

The primary non-proliferation impact case will be fully realised on the timescale of six years, following the construction phase and the exploitation phase. In the interim, there is also a secondary impact case, which is knowledge transfer. UK involvement in WATCHMAN is a partnership between the STFC-Boulby Underground Laboratory, the universities, and the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE). We are engaged in knowledge exchange with our industrial partners at AWE, which is a valuable impact case taking place now, during the four year construction phase of WATCHMAN.


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Description This award is for work to develop a design for the WATCHMAN detector (AIT-NEO project). During the course of this activity, we have completed a broad sensitivity study of the WATCHMAN detector for both fundamental science and nuclear non-proliferation. For non-proliferation, the initial goals of detecting a nuclear reactor at distances of tens of kilometers was supplemented by looking at sensitivity at even greater distances (~150 km), determining the cleanliness levels required to determine the direction of the reactor, and ascertaining the distance to the reactor. For fundamental science we looked at astrophysical topics, such as the sensitivity to determining the metal content of the sun via low energy solar neutrinos, as well as the capability to distinguish between supernova models in the event of a galactic supernova explosion. Other physics sensitivities evaluated include basic properties of the neutrino, such as their mass and "mixing" parameters, and also the ability to determine whether a neutrino is its own antiparticle.
Exploitation Route The outcomes of this funding will hopefully lead to a major investment in an STFC facility (Boulby Underground Laboratory) by a US partner, the National Nuclear Security Administration. This is primarily an impact project, relevant to nuclear safety.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Security and Diplomacy

Description Our findings have been used in collaboration with the nuclear non-proliferation community to discuss ways in which the work funded under this award can assist agencies such as the IAEA by providing them with additional tools.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Non-proliferation
Geographic Reach North America 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact One of the stated goals of this work is to educate the next generation of scientists in non-proliferation research. To that end, we have engaged in exchange programmes sending students to work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA, as well as at the Atomic Weapons Establishment and at the Boulby Underground Laboratory in the UK.
Description Atomic Weapons Establishment 
Organisation Atomic Weapons Establishment
Department National Nuclear Security Programme
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We have brought significant knowledge exchange to this partnership, sharing particle physics techniques with our collaborators who can adapt them to the purposes of nuclear security.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners at the AWE have made employment training possibilities available to our younger scientists, several of whom have successfully used them as a launching point for their careers. They have also made resources with the USA available under the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement. They have educated us in nuclear non-proliferation policy and the impact potential of our work.
Impact Too early. Design work still in progress.
Start Year 2016
Description Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation 
Organisation National Nuclear Security Administration
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The WATCHMAN project is a joint US / UK collaboration with the US National Nuclear Security Administration as the primary sponsor. Under this award, we have carried out pilot tests of photon sensors, and developed analysis methods. We have played a primary role in the development of the site for the project, and led in other areas, such as calibration.
Collaborator Contribution The US National Security Administration is the principal sponsor of their work, making a vast financial contribution over a five year period.
Impact Too early. Design work still in progress.
Start Year 2017