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Analysis by neutron resonant capture imaging and other emerging neutron techniques: new cultural heritage and archaeological research methods


A large variety of chemical, physical and microstructural techniques are employed to characterize objects of cultural significance. Most of these methods are invasive and probes like X-rays and charged particles have limited penetration power in matter. Neutrons, on the other hand, can penetrate thick layers without substantial scattering or absorption. While the potential of neutron-based techniques is large, their development is recent in most cases. Especially, no attempt has been made to use the unique resonance absorption properties of epithermal neutrons for the quantitative 3D imaging of complex objects.

Many elements have neutron absorption resonances in the epithermal energy range. Neutron absorption is followed by the prompt emission of a gamma-ray cascade, which can be readily measured. Spatially resolved information can in principle be obtained by a combination of tight neutron beam collimation, multiple positioning of sample and gamma detectors, and detection of neutron resonances with different strengths and therefore able to effectively probe depth. Developing the "Neutron Resonant Capture Imaging" (NRCI) as a non-invasive quantitative technique for 3D imaging and its use in cultural heritage projects is the ultimate aim of the ANCIENT CHARM project.

The idea of developing an imaging technique based on epithermal neutron absorption is totally new and presents a number of scientific and technical challenges which are best addressed by building on recent experience obtained by other neutron-based techniques for cultural heritage analysis, i.e. Neutron Resonant Capture Analysis (NRCA), Prompt Gamma Activation Analysis (PGAA), Neutron Diffraction (ND) and Neutron Tomography (NT). These non-destructive analysis methods provide some of the underlying technologies and cultural prerequisites for the development of NRCI and will be combined with NRCI to provide a comprehensive neutron-based imaging method for cultural heritage research.

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