National security: The phrase resonates like a drumbeat these days.

Just one example: In its 2017 Budget-in-Brief, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security lists among its priorities allocating $103.9 million for radiological and nuclear detection equipment “to keep U.S. ports of entry safe and secure by detecting and interdicting illicit radioactive or nuclear materials.”

A team led by Northeastern’s Swastik Kar and Yung Joon Jung has developed a technology that could go a long way toward achieving that goal. “Our detector could dramatically change the manner and accuracy with which we are able to detect nuclear threats at home or abroad,” says Kar, associate professor in the Department of Physics.

It could also help streamline radio-medicine, including radiation therapies and scanning diagnostics, boost the effectiveness of unmanned radiation monitoring vehicles in mapping and monitoring contaminated areas following disasters, and revolutionize radiometric imaging in space exploration.

Made of graphene and carbon nanotubes, the researchers’ detector far outpaces any existing one in its ultrasensitivity to charged particles, minuscule size, low-power requirements, and low cost.

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