Atomic layer deposition α-Al2O3 diffusion barriers to eliminate the memory effect in beta-gamma radioxenon detectors
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Well designed scintillator detectors, including such examples as ARSA, SAUNA, and XIA’s “PhosWatch”, can readily achieve the state of the art radioxenon detection limits required for nuclear explosion monitoring. They are also reliable, robust detectors that do not require cryogenic cooling for operation. All three employ the principle of beta-gamma coincidence detection to reduce background counting rates, using a BC-404 plastic scintillator to detect the betas and a CsI or NaI scintillator to detect the gamma-rays. As a consequence of this commonality of design, all three also display a “memory effect” arising from the diffusion of Xe into BC-404. Thus, when one sample is pumped out of the detector, a fraction remains behind, embedded in the BC-404, where it artificially raises the signal counting rate for the next sample. While this is not a fatal flaw in scintillator detectors, developing a method to eliminate the memory effect would significantly enhance their utility. This paper reports efforts to develop thin, amorphous Al2O3 films, deposited by atomic layer deposition (ALD) to act as diffusion barriers on the BC-404 surfaces exposed to radioxenon. Using radon as a convenient substitute for Xe, film thicknesses between 2 and 10 nm were originally investigated and found to show a memory effect to varying degrees. A second set of 20 and 30 nm films was then produced, which appeared to completely eliminate the radon memory effect, but, when consequentially tested with radioxenon, were found to exhibit xenon memory effects that were approximately half of the effect found on uncoated BC-404. We draw two conclusions from this result. The first is that it will be necessary to develop an improved method for depositing thicker ALD Al2O3 films at lower temperatures while still retaining high film quality. The second is that, since xenon is required to test for the xenon memory effect, we need a test method that does not require xenon radio-isotopes in order to facilitate screening large numbers of samples.
KeywordsRadioxenon detection Memory effect Vapor barrier Al2O3 Atomic layer deposition ALD Beta-gamma detector
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