Using nuclear radiation to transmit digital data wirelessly
Radio waves and mobile phone signals typically rely on electromagnetic radiation for communication. Now engineers from Lancaster University in the UK, working with the Jožef Stefan Institute in Slovenia, have transferred digitally encoded information using nuclear radiation instead.
The researchers measured the spontaneous emission of fast neutrons from californium-252, a radioactive isotope produced in nuclear reactors. Modulated emissions were measured using a detector and recorded on a laptop.
Several examples of information, ie, 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 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% successful, according to results published in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment.
“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,” said Professor Malcolm Joyce of Lancaster University. He explained 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,” Prof Joyce said.
“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.”
Fast neutrons could also be incorporated into a mixed-signal, electronic system to achieve signal-mixing between electrons and neutrons. This could contribute to the requirement to ensure the integrity of information transfer.
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