Fabrication, testing and simulation of a high spatial resolution alpha-particle imager based on ZnO nanowires in a polycarbonate nanoporous membrane
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A new architecture consisting of ZnO nanowires embedded in a polycarbonate nanoporous membrane was proposed, fabricated and simulated as a high spatial resolution alpha particle imager. The experimental and Geant4 simulation results showed that ZnO nanowires could act as scintillating fibers to prevent spread of the generated optical photons inside the imager. This property can be used to precisely determine alpha collision coordinates. An array of these nanowires can be also applied as a new high spatial resolution alpha particle imager.
KeywordsAlpha Particle Polycarbonate Membrane Geant4 Simulation Optical Photon High Spatial Resolution Imager
Monitoring flux of alpha particles using techniques such as autoradiography and imaging plates plays an important role in detecting radioactive nuclides and polluted parts in the processing facilities which generate uranium and plutonium [1, 2]. It is very essential to design a monitoring system which is capable of extracting precise information on energy, direction, flux, etc. of alpha particles. Recently, many researchers have attempted to introduce a compact and portable alpha imager based on scintillator crystals combined with a position sensitive detector to provide real time monitoring of alpha and probably other heavy charged particles . In designing such a monitoring system, ZnO has attracted attention as a scintillating material. ZnO has promising properties [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9] including high internal quantum efficiency, short decay time, good linearity, fast decay time below 1 ns [10, 11], high radiation hardness, lack of toxicity, medium ionization energy of 9.0 eV and small fano-factor [12, 13, 14]. More recently, ZnO in the form of nanowires has been proposed as a high spatial resolution X-ray detector [15, 16].
In this work, a new scintillating screen based on ZnO nanowires was introduced as a high spatial resolution imager to monitor alpha particles. The proposed electrochemically synthesized imager consisted of ZnO nanowires embedded in a polycarbonate nanoporous membrane. In this structure, each nanowire could act as a scintillating fiber guiding the generated optical photons to end of the detector along the particle path inside the detector.
Using Monte Carlo simulations, ability of the proposed structure as a high spatial resolution imager was evaluated. The simulations were performed by Geant4 toolkit , which was capable of considering the interaction of high energy particles with matter and transport of the optical photons generated inside the scintillating crystals. Scintillation and optical response of the fabricated screen were tested by a photomultiplier tube (PMT) and its spatial resolution was extracted by a charge coupled device (CCD) sensor.
2 Material and methods
2.1 Detection setup and principles
The light spreading inside the NWD was expected to decrease due to the light guiding effect of the nanowires. The nanowires acted as optical fibers in the NWD. Since the membrane had a different refractive index from ZnO, the optical photons which had incident angle of smaller than critical angle were reflected and guided to the end of the nanowires and others were scattered inside the detector. Also, some of the generated optical photons might be absorbed inside the detector.
2.2 Monte Carlo simulation
2.2.1 Geant4 setting
To perform the simulation, previous simulation methods were strictly followed [15, 16]. Geant4 (version 4.9.4) was employed to perform the Monte Carlo simulation. Geant4 simulation toolkit includes a series of packages to simulate electromagnetic interactions of particles with matter and is specialized for different particle types, energy range and specific physics models. To simulate the whole process of detection for alpha particles, the physics list includes low energy electromagnetic physics, scintillation and transportation of optical photons. The G4EMLOW 6.23 data library, which is low-energy electromagnetic (EM) package containing data files for EM processes down to very low energies (eV scale), was used in this simulation. The UNIFIED model in Geant4 was also applied for modeling reflection of photons at surfaces between two dielectric materials [19, 20, 21]. In photon reflection modeling, surface roughness between the dielectrics was neglected.
2.2.2 Input optical parameters
Accurate Geant4 simulation of ZnO scintillator required optical properties of ZnO such as absolute light yield, emission spectrum, optical absorption length, optical scattering length and refractive index to be included to the modeling. Refractive indexes of ZnO for different wavelengths ranging from 300 to 900 nm were extracted from . Scintillation light yield of ZnO was set to 9000 photon/MeV . Also, X-ray induced luminescence spectrum and optical absorption/scattering coefficients of ZnO were similar to what previously reported in [24, 25]. The parameters required for modeling light transport in the polycarbonate included its refractive index, optical scattering length and absorption length [26, 27, 28].
2.3 Experimental setup
2.3.1 Synthesis of aligned ZnO nanowires
Typical synthesis of the nanowires was carried out by electrodeposition of ZnO in a polycarbonate membrane. Average pore diameter, pore density and thickness of the polycarbonate membrane (Whatman) used in this experiment were 200 nm, 6×108 pores/cm2 and ∼10 μm, respectively. In order to ensure a good electrical contact for electrodeposition, a 60 nm gold layer was sputtered on the membrane’s bottom in rate of ∼26 nm/min. Electrodeposition system was based on a classical three-electrode apparatus. A saturated silver/silver chloride electrode (Ag/AgCl in saturated KCl) was used as the reference and connected via a salt bridge. A stainless steel plate (high purity) served as the anode. The electrolyte used for fabrication of ZnO nanowires was 0.05 M, Zn(NO3)2⋅6H2O (99 %, Chem-Lab). Copper tape served as the cathode substrate for the nanowires’ growth. Electrodeposition was carried out at 1 V and 70 °C for 3800 s.
2.3.3 Testing setup and methods
A Hamamatsu PMT (R1828-01) was used to survey scintillation behavior of the fabricated screen in the presence of alpha particles. For this purpose, the sample was attached to the PMT and its optical response was recorded for 300 s by a multichannel analyzer (MCA) with and without an alpha particle source. The difference between the recorded results showed scintillation response of ZnO nanowires to alpha particles.
To extract spatial resolution of the fabricated screen, it was attached to a 5 mega pixel CCD (sensitive to ultraviolet photons) with pixel size of about 2 μm. A collimated alpha emitter (238Pu) was placed in front of the nanowire-based screen. The setup was optically sealed and an image was taken by the CCD sensor. To evaluate the background noise, an image without alpha particle source was also taken. Based on this information, alpha particle interaction point with the detector and also strength of scintillation and spatial resolution of the fabricated imager were extracted.
3 Results and discussion
3.1 Simulation results
3.2 Experimental results
3.2.1 Results of PMT test
The number of recorded counts using the PMT during 300 s related to scintillation of the ZnO nanowires and background
Background and scintillation
The results showed that, out of 832500 emitted alpha particles, around 131500 ones were detected, which meant that quantum efficiency of the detector was around 16 %. This efficiency was close to ratio of total nanowires cross-section area to the sample surface area.
3.2.2 Results of CCD test
The results showed that ZnO nanowires in a polycarbonate membrane could act as a high spatial resolution alpha particle detector. The experimental data demonstrated good agreement with simulation results, indicating that the proposed imager had less than 2 μm FWHM of spatial resolution, which was about 5 times smaller than the bulk scintillator. Nonetheless, for the same thickness of ZnO, the NWD had smaller detection efficiency compared to the MD, because the NWD had less scintillation material. A higher density of the nanowires could overcome this drawback.
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