Fast neutrons used to wirelessly transmits digital data

Engineers have transferred digitally encoded information wirelessly using nuclear radiation instead of conventional electromagnetic radiation technology.

fast neutrons
(Image: Lancaster University)

The engineers from Lancaster University, working with the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia, transferred digitally encoded information using fast neutrons.

The researchers measured the spontaneous emission of fast neutrons from californium-252, a radioactive isotope used in nuclear start-up rods.

Modulated emissions were measured using a detector and recorded on a laptop.

According to Lancaster University, several types of information, such as a word, the alphabet and a random number selected blindly, were encoded serially into the modulation of the neutron field and the output decoded on a laptop which recovered the encoded information on screen.

A double-blind test was said to be performed in which a number derived from a random number generator was encoded without prior knowledge of those uploading it, and then transmitted and decoded.

All transmission tests attempted proved to be 100 per cent successful.

In a statement, Professor Malcolm Joyce of Lancaster University said: “We demonstrate the potential of fast neutron radiation as a medium for wireless communications for applications where conventional electromagnetic transmission is either not feasible or is inherently limited.”

He added that fast neutrons have an advantage over conventional electromagnetic waves, which are significantly weakened by transmission through materials including metals.

“In some safety-critical scenarios, such as concerning the integrity of reactor containments, and metal vaults and bulkheads in maritime structures, it can be important to minimise the number of penetrations made through such metal structures for communications cabling. The use of neutrons for information transmission through such structures could negate the need for such penetrations and is perhaps also relevant to scenarios where limited transmissions are desirable in difficult circumstances, such as for emergency rescue operations.”

The team added that fast neutrons could also be incorporated into a mixed-signal, electronic systems to achieve signal mixing being between electrons and neutrons, which could contribute to the requirement of requiring integrity of information transfer.

The team’s paper – Wireless information transfer with fast neutrons – has been published in ScienceDirect.