Data control

The key to effective instrumentation is the development of sensors that can measure or control the environment and share information among people, benefitting society by helping to pool knowledge and improve safety. The IAEA works with its partners on issues related to data acquisition, control and transmission.

The quality of data captured by sensors is affected by three factors: the speed of capture; data resolution; and the ability to store and share the acquired information.

In recent years, the improvements in consumer electronics, photovoltaics, batteries and wireless technology have revolutionized the collection of data. The new technology has permitted the construction of low-cost custom-built detectors and data acquisition/wireless control systems that are able to gather data in remote locations without grid power and over long periods of time. These features, together with the ability to process large data volumes, have opened up  the possibility to develop (near) real-time broad area maps.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems – commonly also known as drones – have provided additional advantages for the mobile use of sensors. At a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft, they can deploy sensors more rapidly and to more precise locations, as well as deliver 3-D imagery. This ability to take remote measurements makes them the ideal platform for many radiation monitoring measurements.

Added value: the IAEA’s contribution

The IAEA has a mobile spectrometry team that uses detectors built on hardware comprising a miniaturized package with a high-power lithium polymer battery, low-current high-voltage power supply, spectrum analyser, a global satellite navigation system and local data storage. All of this package’s features are enabled or controlled by digital electronics that permit the adjustment of the detector system, as well as the processing and analysis of the radiation detector signals. Bluetooth-enabled smartphones allow for the detectors to be operated remotely .

The Agency also maintains a laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, which, in collaboration with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), regularly holds workshops and schools on the development and use of digital electronics for data acquisition and control.  However, the IAEA Nuclear Science and Instrumentation Laboratory is not confined to this area; it also works with the ICTP’s Telecommunication/ICT (Information and Communication Technology) for Development laboratory on the use and development of wireless sensor networks, which play a central role in the capture and transmission of data. 

Introducing digital signal systems and hybrid devices

In the last decade, traditional analogue signal processing has been largely overtaken by digital radiation detection systems. Digital Signal/Pulse Processing (DSP/DPP) systems have significant advantages to their analogue precursors and have been successfully introduced to several laboratories worldwide.

Digital Pulse Processing is a signal processing technique in which detector (preamplifier output) signals are directly digitized and processed to extract “quantities of interest,” such as pulse height, pulse shape and arrival time. Systems using DSP/DPP have become fast and inexpensive enough to allow for digital real-time processing of nuclear radiation detection data, and are therefore increasingly used for nuclear spectroscopy applications.

Technological advancements have also brought about advanced hybrid reconfigurable devices, which combine the software programmability of general purpose processors with the hardware re-configurability of FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays; these are integrated circuits designed to be configured after manufacturing). By efficiently partitioning complex tasks in tightly interdependent software and hardware activities it is possible to achieve unparalleled results in system performance while providing important system benefits in terms of flexibility, scalability, power consumption, developing time and cost reduction.

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