Neutron Dosimetry of Mice Using Monoenergetic Neutron Beams
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In 2009 the researchers at Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL) participated in a series of experiments with the Radiation Countermeasures Center of Research Excellence (RadCCORE). This thesis project is a component of the research done at TUNL that was partially supported by the RadCCORE collaboration. The primary goals of this work are: (1) to measure the neutron fluence (and hence the dose) from the standard neutron beam source at TUNL delivered to a small animal target to an accuracy of better than ± 10% and (2) to develop techniques for real time monitoring of the absolute dose delivered to small animal targets from neutron beam irradiation. These two projects are interconnected as the development of the real-time monitoring techniques depends on the results of the absolute fluence measurements.
Measuring the absolute neutron beam fluence necessitates the use of a reaction in which the neutron cross section is accurately known over the relevant energy range and a detection technique which is insensitive to gamma-rays or is capable of distinguishing gamma-rays from neutrons. In this work, neutron activation of aluminum and gold foils was used to make absolute measurements of the fast neutron (En ~ 10 MeV) fluence. Neutron activation of gold foils was also used to make a relative measurement of the thermal neutron fluence. The neutrons produced nuclear reactions in the foils, converting a small quantity of the stable atoms in the foils into radioactive ones which subsequently generate gamma-rays in their decay process. The activated foils are then removed from the beam and placed in front of a high-purity germanium (HPGe) detector that measures the energy spectrum of the gamma-rays emitted by the foil. By counting the number of gamma-rays detected over a set time, the incident neutron fluence at the foil location was determined using the known reaction cross sections. The measured neutron fluence was used to calculate the imparted dose to live mouse targets via the muscle tissue neutron kerma factors. Liquid and plastic scintillation detectors were also used to monitor the relative neutron flux in real time during the experiments. These relative detectors were subsequently calibrated using flux results obtained from the foil activation measurements and were used for real time dose monitoring.
The neutron beam produced at TUNL also has an intrinsic gamma component that adds to the dose received by a small animal target. The gamma contribution to imparted dose is generally taken to be around 10% or less for neutron beams created by linear accelerators utilizing the <super>2</super>H(d,n)<super>3</super>He reaction, but no confirming measurements of this type have been performed at TUNL prior to this work. To verify this claim, an experiment was conducted to quantify the gamma-ray contribution to the target dose at several incident neutron energies and gas cell pressures.
The dosage from the mixed beam was measured using two ionization chambers that have different sensitivities to neutron and gamma radiation. The chambers were placed in the neutron beam, and the total charge induced in the ionization chamber by the mixed radiation field was monitored. The percent gamma-ray contribution to total target dose was calculated utilizing the procedures outlined in AAPM Report No. 7 and Attix.
Using the foil activation technique, the neutron fluence incident on target and dose delivered were measured to within ± 10%. The target dose estimated using the scintillation detectors was found to be accurate to within ± 20%. The results of the ion chamber measurements imply the gamma-ray component of the neutron beam at TUNL contributes less than 5% to the total target dose. Given the large difference in quality factors between gamma-rays (=1) and fast neutrons (~10), the contribution by gamma radiation to the total equivalent dose was determined to be negligible.
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