ADVERTISEMENT

Muons for Peace

New way to spot hidden nukes gets ready to debut
THIS IS A PREVIEW.
or subscribe to access the full article.

The same place that gave the world the atomic bomb has now found a way to ferret out illicit nuclear material. Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a method to search for heavy elements such as uranium via subatomic particles from space called muons. By 2008, “muon tomography” might be guarding U.S. borders.

About 10,000 muons reach every square meter of the earth’s surface a minute; these charged particles form as by-products of cosmic rays colliding with molecules in the upper atmosphere. Traveling at relativistic speeds, muons can penetrate tens of meters into rocks and other matter before attenuating as a result of absorption or deflection by other atoms. The scattering is most pronounced in dense substances such as uranium and plutonium—elements with high Z (the number of protons in an atom’s nucleus). “We use the fact that the scattering is sensitive to Z and particularly sensitive to the materials that you build nuclear bombs from or that you shield nuclear bombs with,” explains Los Alamos’s Christopher Morris, chief creator of the technology. “We measure the scattering angle for every muon, we measure the angle on the way in and the angle on the way out, and the change in the angle tells you how much material you’ve gone through.”

THIS IS A PREVIEW.
or subscribe to access the full article.
Buy Digital Issue $7.99
Print + Digital
All Access
$99.99 Subscribe
Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

The perfect movie companion to
Jurassic World

Add promo-code: Jurassic
to your cart and get this digital issue for just $7.99!

Hurry this sale ends soon >

X

Email this Article

X