Neutron radiation

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About  the origin and effect of neutron radiation


How neutron radiation can be used in technology

As a part

of radioactive radiation, neutron radiation also has its utility in technical applications

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Neutron radiation

is  a type of radiation (in addition to the α, β and γ radiation).
However,  this rarely arises from natural decay and is therefore artificially generated with the help of neutron sources (irradiation of suitable materials with protons or alpha particles).

But  it also arises in the upper layers of the atmosphere, caused by particles that knock individual neutrons out of the air molecules.

Neutron  radiation is very important, because it plays a crucial role in the use of nuclear energy and materials research.

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Physical basics

Neutron  radiation is ionizing radiation that consists of free neutrons with different kinetic energies.

These  are electrically neutral particles, i.e. the charges of atomic nuclei and electrons have no influence on their movement, which is why neutron radiation can penetrate matter relatively easily.

The  ionizing effect that arises mainly occurs indirectly through the impact of light atomic nuclei or their components, which in turn have an ionizing effect.

Such  collisions slow down the neutrons, i.e. they become less energetic, which (especially thermal neutrons) have an essential ability: to attach to atomic nuclei (neutron capture), whereby an isotope of the atom is created, which has captured a neutron, with a mass number increased by 1. 

Many  of these isotopes are radioactive. Depending on the half-life of the isotope, ionizing radiation can be released for a very long time after neutron irradiation. 

The  free state of a neutron always ends after a very short time when it is captured by an atom or another nuclear reaction, which is why a free neutron rarely has a chance to “experience” its radioactive decay. 

Above  all, Fast neutrons cause damage in living tissue due to the elastic scattering of hydrogen, since they "Recoil protons" are generated, which now have a strong ionizing effect and thus damage tissue.

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Neutron radiation in industrial measurement

Fast  neutrons are slowed down considerably when they hit a hydrogen atom, but they are hardly affected by other substances.

This  fact is used to measure the moisture content in bulk materials:
a source that emits fast neutrons in combination with the interaction of the water molecules in the sample.

This  creates a cloud of slow neutrons in the vicinity of the source, the number of which is proportional to the water content, so that the moisture can be determined very precisely in this way.

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Types of radiation

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Gamma radiation

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Infrared radiation

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Neutron radiation

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