Organic Semiconductor Neutron Detectors for Dark Matter

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Physics


The physics potential of future dark matter searches at experiments such as DarkSide in Italy will be limited by the ability to identify and veto thermal neutrons. There are several sources of neutrons in the experimental setup, both in the cryogenic regions in the vicinity of the electronics reading out the SiPM sensors, and from the environment of the experimental cavern. Cold or warm operation solid state neutron detectors could help to reduce the backgrounds, and in turn increase the physics sensitivity for particle dark matter direct detection searches. In this proposal we build on our previous work with organic semiconductors (OSCs) for radiation detection by making prototype large area multi-channel OSC position sensitive neutron detectors. The purpose of this instrument development work is to evaluate the potential for using this technology in a future Dark Matter experiment for part of a neutron veto system.

We present a proposal to make and test a demonstrator thermal neutron detector with active area up to 10 square centimetres. This would provide a base-unit to consider the feasibility of making a larger area veto for experiments like DarkSide.

Our project has a risk register and Gantt chart (available on request, not submitted as that information was not requested for this call).

Planned Impact

Societal impact will be generated through dissemination of the potential for Dark Matter discoveries at all levels, through standard established outreach mechanisms within the School of Physics and Astronomy, across QMUL and with the general public from school children through to policy holder level.

Economic impact will be targeted through networking and developing industrial collaborations, and through training a STEM skilled worker. We have a patent pending for the underlying technology, and through existing work have a good relationship with the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) Ltd. The AWE provides relevant industry and government guidance on the most important commercial development route in order to facilitate us targeting low TRL work and identifying a route to market, which is a valuable in-kind contribution in itself. The AWE have invested/are investing approximately £230k in this area. This proposal will build on that background investment. We also have good relations with QM Innovation (QMI), who are aware of our previous work in this area, and have invested £50k in developing a four-channel pixel demonstrator; work that this proposal will build upon to construct a proof of concept targeting a dark matter detector. QMUL have historically invested a further £30k seed-corn funding in this area, based on commercial interest. That seed funding allowed us to develop this technology and establish industry connections outlined in this proposal. Thus this proposal is leveraging 310k of prior investment in developing the underlying technology.

Other companies that we are in contact with regarding the potential of this technology (based on our single channel devices) include:
- Symetrica: A Non-disclosure agreement (NDA) has been signed based on single channel devices, and device evaluation for potential future product development for a multichannel device. Symetrica sell hand-held, mobile, and port of entry neutron detectors and are keen to evaluate new technology. QMUL have issued a technology evaluation license to Symetrica.
- 3M: we are negotiating a NDA with 3M. They are very keen to establish a commercial R&D funding line to collaborate with us on single channel devices. 3M's application area of interest is sensors for personal protective equipment (PPE) for Chemical-Biological-Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) applications.
- Kromek: this company is interested in discussing our technology, and we will set up a meeting to explore the potential during the course of this programme.
- IP Group: this is a venture capital company, who work with QMI, and are interested in understanding the potential gains from this technology. The SPA has an existing track record of IP Group investing 6-figure sums into start-ups.

These lines of engagement with industry have potential economic impact spanning the nuclear threat reduction, military and CBRN PPE markets from established companies, through to a higher risk start up route. We expect these companies to be interested in exploring the potential for developing the output of this proposal toward market, and believe that we not only have a strong physics case, but also grounds to commercialise any technology developed. We are developing links with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, National Nuclear Laboratory, and STFC's Technology Division (that serves the needs of the ISIS facility at the Harwell campus). We will also be able to leverage the NuSec network industry partners to explore the potential for broader impact.

Scientific Impact: In addition to the potential to enhance the DM direct detection search potential; solid state neutron detectors have the potential for other scientific applications. For example, Nuclear Physics community users working with neutron sources, ISIS users, UKAEA and NNL scientist working on robotics, sensing and smart facilities of the future (e.g. fusion power plants).


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Description AWE Ltd 
Organisation Atomic Weapons Establishment
Department National Nuclear Security Programme
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Working on the development of a novel neutron detector.
Collaborator Contribution Partners have funded the development of device readout and simulation. This underpins technology refinements that have accelerated technology development.
Impact Outputs are being finalised in terms of publications and IP protection.
Start Year 2015