William H. Goldstein
of Physics and Advanced Technologies
Focus on High-Energy Detection
LIVERMORE Livermore has partnered with the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Columbia University, and the Danish Space Research Institute to launch the High Energy Focusing Telescope (HEFT), a balloon-borne mission that will demonstrate a new capability to image hard x rays from black holes and other exotic objects in the high-energy universe. Researchers at the Laboratory expect the results from HEFT to provide new information about deep space.
The HEFT mission, sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is testing new telescope optics and detectors developed at Livermore and Caltech. If successful, the telescope’s groundbreaking technologies may be slated for a future satellite observatory. Livermore scientists used a grant from the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program to upgrade the gondola that carries the telescope to enable a unique science return from the instrument. The experiment’s goal is to map out the distribution of high-energy emissions from titanium-44 in the supernovae remnant Cassiopeia A. These data would shed light on the nucleosynthesis of elements essential to life, including calcium, and on the nature of the supernova explosion itself.
The HEFT telescope makes use of both the Laboratory’s advances in the design and fabrication of hard x-ray focusing optics and Caltech’s development of detector materials to solve the problem of collecting and analyzing hard x rays from very weak sources. The Laboratory is also adapting the technologies used to study astrophysics phenomena in the universe to advance the development of radiation detection equipment needed to protect the nation from nuclear terrorism.
The problem of finding nuclear material that may be covertly transported or hidden by terrorists is one of the “grand challenges” of homeland security. While the solution will almost undoubtedly involve a highly coordinated system of sensor and intelligence capabilities, the principal means of detecting and identifying nuclear materials is by their distinctive hard x radiation. Therefore, significant advances in x-ray detection science and technology have a direct and invaluable application to the nuclear terrorism problem.
As described in the article entitled Probing the Universe with Mirrors That Trick Light, the detectors developed for HEFT can be applied to countering nuclear terrorism. The cadmium–zinc–telluride devices replace standard germanium detectors that must be cooled to –200°C to operate. Eliminating the cooling requirement by using these room-temperature devices results in compact, high-resolution sensors that can be easily packaged as versatile, portable radiation detectors for first responders.
Because of the many years the Laboratory has worked with its partners in its high-energy astrophysics programs, the HEFT technology was ready to contribute to the needs of homeland security in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Long-term basic research and collaborations with partners in areas that share science and technology with Livermore’s missions are essential to our ability to respond to the nation’s evolving national security needs.
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Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Operated by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy
November 10, 2004