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January 14, 2022

Johns Hopkins APL Contributes Critical Expertise to R&D 100 Award-Winning Nuclear Detection Device

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, provided expertise critical to the development of a fieldable nuclear threat assessment instrument that has been selected as a winner of the 2021 R&D 100 Awards. Held by R&D World Magazine, the R&D 100 is the only science and technology awards competition that recognizes the significance of new commercial products, technologies and materials in sectors as diverse as telecommunications, high-energy physics, software, manufacturing and biotechnology.

The award-winning device, the Multiplicity Counter for Thermal and Fast Neutrons (MC-TF), is a field-deployable tool that first responders can use to quickly assess, in real time and with high confidence, the threat level posed by a suspected nuclear weapon. It is designed to detect time-correlated fast and thermal neutrons that are unique to the special material that forms the core of any nuclear weapon. The MC-TF was jointly developed by Radiation Monitoring Devices (RMD), APL and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, under the leadership of RMD, which specializes in radiation detection and imaging, nuclear instrumentation and nondestructive test equipment. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency sponsored the work.

APL made several key contributions to the MC-TF, most notably providing subject-matter expertise on the multiplicity counting technique and how to build a multiplicity counter. William Noonan, a nuclear physicist in APL’s Asymmetric Operations Sector, had previously developed multiplicity counting techniques and advanced fission-chain algorithms. Noonan guided RMD in creating the MC-TF, meeting monthly with RMD over two and a half years and making several trips to advise RMD at its Massachusetts headquarters.

“The MC-TF’s ability to detect three species of nuclear particle — thermal neutrons, fast neutrons and gammas — and to do so in a compact fieldable instrument, opens up significant new possibilities for assessing potential nuclear threat objects,” Noonan said.

Stan Puchalla, Noonan’s supervisor in APL’s Homeland Protection Mission Area, praised the work of Noonan and his team and expressed pride in APL’s role in creating the award-winning technology.

“The work that Bill and his team have done exemplifies APL’s depth of expertise in nuclear physics, sensing and software development, as well as our particular competence in bringing these disparate domains together to create innovative technology in service of our nation,” Puchalla said. “We’re honored to have contributed to this groundbreaking device and to have worked with such a stellar team of collaborators in the process.”

Media contact: Amanda Zrebiec, 240-592-2794, Amanda.Zrebiec@jhuapl.edu

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a not-for-profit division of The Johns Hopkins University, meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of science and technology. For more information, visit www.jhuapl.edu.

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