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A palm-sized gamma ray detector


Narrator:    This is Science Today. A rugged instrument that's fits into the palm of a hand is taking the first-ever gamma ray data of the planet Mercury, and could also be used for Homeland Security efforts. Morgan Burks, a staff physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says their gamma ray spectrometer, called GeMini, is unique in that it has extremely high resolution for its size, thanks to a miniature electromechanical cooler.

Burks:        It has a sort of cylindrical cryostat, a vacuum cryostat because we're cooling it to minus 200 degrees Celsius. So, connected to this small vacuum cryostat, which looks kind of like a tiny thermos, is a small motor, which is actually a tiny refrigerator, few inches in size and it connects inside. And that's what performs the cooling.

Narrator:    The ruggedness will come in handy in their applications here on Earth — in particular, to help detect the smuggling of nuclear materials.

Burks:        You want to be able to take it out in the field. You want to be able to use it for emergency response. And that ruggedness came in part because of an experience we have putting these also in space.

Narrator:    For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.