Neutrons may be detected using activation foils and flux wires. This method is based on neutron activation, where an analyzed sample is first irradiated with neutrons to produce specific radionuclides. The radioactive decay of these produced radionuclides is specific for each element (nuclide). Each nuclide emits the characteristic gamma rays which are measured using gamma spectroscopy, where gamma rays detected at a particular energy are indicative of a specific radionuclide and determine concentrations of the elements.
Selected materials for activation foils are for example:
These elements have large cross sections for the radiative capture of neutrons. Use of multiple absorber samples allows characterization of the neutron energy spectrum. Activation also allows recreation of an historic neutron exposure. Commercially available criticality accident dosimeters often utilize this method. By measuring the radioactivity of thin foils, we can determine the amount of neutrons to which the foils were exposed.
Flux wires may be used in nuclear reactors to measure reactor neutron flux profiles. Principles are the same. Wire or foil is inserted directly into the reactor core, remains in the core for the length of time required for activation to the desired level. After activation, the flux wire or foil is rapidly removed from the reactor core and the activity counted. Activated foils can also discriminate energy levels by placing a cover over the foil to filter out (absorb) certain energy level neutrons. For example, cadmium is widely used to absorb thermal neutrons in a thermal neutron filters.