OPEN 2021
Lubbock, Texas
Project Term:
04/19/2022 - 04/18/2025

Critical Need:

Effective neutron detection is key to supporting safe fusion or fission nuclear power generation, which includes monitoring nuclear reactor operation and identifying nuclear fuels. Significant R&D effort has been devoted to the development of thermal neutron detectors for applications in nuclear security, nuclear waste management, and oil field exploration. Detecting fast neutrons is still technically challenging, however, due to their much lower interaction probabilities than thermal neutrons. The ideal neutron detector should be (1) compact to allow optimal positioning; (2) fissile-material-free for security reasons and ease of operation; (3) radiation- and temperature-resistant to allow operation in harsh environments, such as a nuclear reactor core; and (4) sensitive to thermal and fast neutrons. Current neutron detectors fail in at least one of these four requirements.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Texas Tech will develop boron nitride (BN) fast neutron detectors (FND) for energies up to tens of mega-electron volts based on their recent development of hexagonal BN semiconductor thermal neutron detectors with record efficiencies of >59%. BN FNDs have unique advantages, including compact size, high gamma rejection ratio, low voltage operation, and low fabrication and maintenance costs. These neutron detectors can operate in high temperatures and harsh environments and detect thermal and fast neutrons simultaneously. The BN FND could be installed on the perimeter or in the core of a nuclear reactor to directly monitor reactor and fuel status. The technology also has the potential to replace the multiple Helium-3 (3He) gas tube-based neutron detectors currently deployed in geothermal and well logging tools.

Potential Impact:

The BN FND’s unprecedented performance at a reduced cost could create new applications in nuclear energy, national security, nuclear waste monitoring and management, the health care industry, and material sciences.


If successful, BN detectors would be useful for detecting fissionable material in nuclear waste management and security screening applications as well as for neutron detection in fission and fusion applications.


The realization of BN semiconductor FND will have a broad impact in the fields of nuclear energy generation and safety and nuclear waste reduction and management.


If current BN detectors replace 3He gas detectors, the price of detectors will be reduced, enabling broader deployment of these products.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Olga Spahn
Project Contact:
Prof. Hongxing Jiang
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:

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