Improving SUV-based Radiation Detector Systems
Carl Britt, III, is a doctoral student of nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK). A Knoxville native, Britt traveled to the West Coast for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) Summer Internship Program.
Britt interned at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, California. There, he gained valuable experience in his field of study: radiation and nuclear detection methods.
The DNDO Summer Internship Program provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in projects at federal research facilities across the United States. Participants assist in addressing issues related to national security and nuclear detection to help DNDO meet its mission of preventing “nuclear terrorism by continuously improving capabilities to deter, detect, respond to, and attribute attacks, in coordination with domestic and international partners” as well as train future generations of scientists.
For his doctoral degree, Britt works with algorithms that aid law enforcement in detecting and finding radiation sources in urban environments by using backpack detector systems. While he was at LBNL, Britt researched radiation detectors outfitted for vehicles, rather than backpacks.
Britt applied to the program because it was very similar to his graduate goals and research, which are also related to radiation detection. Through the internship, he improved his understanding of the research material and his approach to problem solving.
Under the mentorship of Ren Cooper, Ph.D., Britt participated in a project aimed at improving the Mobile Urban Radiation Search (MURS) system. This sport utility vehicle-based system is designed to help law enforcement search for radiation sources in urban settings. Public events in metropolitan areas can be complicated for law enforcement officials responsible for monitoring and ensuring security. Radiation detectors outfitted for vehicles can help solve that problem by enabling officers to be mobile and monitor areas prior to and throughout the event.
The detection system is complex, consisting of a gamma radiation detector which constantly monitors radiation levels, as well as video cameras on the vehicle, light detection and ranging (LiDAR ) instruments and a global positioning system (GPS). The detector uses imaging, advanced detection algorithms and contextual information about the area to provide the operator with sufficient evidence to make decisions, such as evacuations if the situation calls for such measures.
MURS is going through a design change, and Britt was charged with investigating the impact of several key design parameters on the ability of the detection system to pinpoint the location of radioactive sources. To do this, Britt characterized the expected performance of the system using synthetic data from a simulation. He also considered other questions regarding MURS design, such as portability of the system and trade-offs between performance and the size, weight and power consumption of the system. His research contributed to efforts to ensure public safety during large scale events.
During his time with DNDO, Britt learned additional tricks and tips in coding, and he improved his technical writing and presentation skills. “I picked up a lot of good habits from [my mentors], and I figured out the skills I need to further develop to be a successful researcher,” Britt said. “I would highly recommend the internship to anyone. Was it hard? Yes, but it was really rewarding.”
“My favorite part was definitely the people,” Britt reflected. “The work was extremely interesting. Each member was so invested in the quality of the product that I feel we all had a substantial impact in the outcome of the project. And what’s surprising is that we all fed off each other’s energy, so despite the amount of work we were doing, it just felt like so much fun,” he said.
Britt returns to the second year of his doctoral program at UTK. In the future, he hopes to work on publications related to his thesis in nuclear detection.
The DNDO Summer Internship Program is funded by DNDO and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.