Effects of etching time on alpha tracks in solid state nuclear track detectors

Gillmore, Gavin, Wertheim, David and Crust, Simon (2016) Effects of etching time on alpha tracks in solid state nuclear track detectors. Science of the Total Environment, 575, pp. 905-909. ISSN (print) 0048-9697


Solid State Nuclear Track Detectors (SSNTDs) are used extensively for monitoring alpha particle radiation, neutron flux and cosmic ray radiation. Radon gas inhalation is regarded as being a significant contributory factor to lung cancer deaths in the UK each year. Gas concentrations are often monitored using CR39 based SSNTDs as the natural decay of radon results in alpha particles which form tracks in these detectors. Such tracks are normally etched for about 4 hours to enable microscopic analysis. This study examined the effect of etching time on the appearance of alpha tracks in SSNTDs by collecting 2D and 3D image datasets using laser confocal imaging techniques. Etching times of 2 to 4 hours were compared and marked differences were noted in resultant track area. The median equivalent diameters of tracks were 20.2, 30.2 and 38.9 µm for etching at 2, 3 and 4 hours respectively. Our results indicate that modern microscope imaging can detect and image the smaller size tracks seen for example at 3 hours etching time. Shorter etching times may give rise to fewer coalescing tracks although there is a balance to consider as smaller track sizes may be more difficult to image. Thus etching for periods of less than 4 hours clearly merits further investigation as this approach has the potential to improve accuracy in assessing the number of tracks.

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