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Nuclear — Seeing inside particles

Neutron imaging can non-destructively view important characteristics to develop advanced nuclear materials, such as the overall shape and defects shown in this example 3D image of uranium TRISO kernels. Credit: Kristian Myhre/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers working on neutron imaging capabilities for nuclear materials have developed a process for seeing the inside of uranium particles – without cutting them open.

Nuclear materials experts and neutron scientists collaborated on the process, which creates image-based 3D reconstructions of the particles. Researchers can even view “slices” of different layers of particles to learn the effects of various conditions on elemental distribution, density and other properties.

Other methods to characterize these particles require they be cut in half, put in epoxy and mounted for viewing with an electron microscope. The new technique allows for characterization of the entire particle, not just a single cross section. ORNL’s Kristian Myhre said the process is broadly applicable and already is being used to study other materials.

“Unlike electron microscopy, the neutron imaging allows you to take a unique picture without destroying your sample,” Myhre said. “It’s such a versatile technique.”