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The 3He supply problem in the U.S. has necessitated the search for alternatives for neutron detection. The neutron detection efficiency is a function of density, atomic composition, neutron absorption cross section, and thickness of the neutron capture material. The isotope 10B is one of only a handful of isotopes with a high neutron absorption cross section—3840 barns for thermal neutrons. So a boron carbide semiconductor represents a viable alternative to 3He. This dissertation provides an evaluation of the performance of semiconducting boron carbide neutron detectors grown by plasma enhance chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) in order to determine the advantages and drawbacks of these devices for neutron detection. Improved handling of the PECVD system has resulted in an extremely stable plasma, enabling deposition of thick films of semiconducting boron carbide. A variety of material and semiconducting characterization tools have been used to investigate the structure and electronic properties of boron carbide thin films, including X-ray diffraction, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, atomic force microscopy, infrared/Raman spectroscopy, current-voltage measurements and capacitance-voltage measurements. Elemental concentrations in the boron carbide films have been obtained from Rutherford backscattering and elastic recoil detection analysis.
Solid state neutron detection devices have been fabricated in the form of heterostructured p-n diodes, p-type boron carbide/n-type Si. Operating conditions, including applied bias voltage, and time constants, have been optimized for maximum detection efficiency and correlated to the semiconducting properties investigated in separate electronic measurements. Accurate measurements of the neutron detection efficiency and the response of the detector to a wide range of neutron wavelengths have been performed at a well calibrated, tightly collimated, “white” cold neutron beam source using time-of-flight neutron detection technique. Because neutron detection measurements indicate that charge capture in boron carbide is affected by the nanocrystalline/amorphous nature of the semiconductor, the effects of incomplete charge collection efficiencies on the neutron detection efficiencies and pulse height spectra in heterostructured p-n diode neutron detectors have been modeled using a Monte Carlo GEANT4 simulation.
The dissertation ends with suggestions for devices with improved neutron detection efficiencies.
Advisor: Shireen Adenwalla