Step 6: Setup Neutron Detection
The proof of fusion (and a quantitative analysis of how much fusion) is obtained through detecting neutron radiation, the byproduct of a D-D fusion reaction. There are three options which will be described. They are in order of descending ease of setup.
-A Neutron Bubble Dosimeter
A bubble dosimeter is a small unit with a gel in it that forms bubbles when ionized by neutron radiation. This is the easiest form of neutron detection available since all you have to do is unscrew the top and set it next to the fusor. Some of the drawbacks are that it is an integrative detector which means all you get is a total neutron emission number over the time that it was used, rather than an instantaneous neutron rate. Additionally, they are somewhat hard to get since the only company to make them is Bubbletech in Canada, which has a minimum order of 3 with steep shipping and handling (expect to spend $700+ if ordering directly from them not in a group buy). Additionally, they tend to be fairly worn out after a year of shelf life (although I've kept mine in a refrigerated storage container at 50*F and it seems to be like new after I think more than a year). The advantage is that calibration data is provided with purchase and of course it is easy.
When silver is placed near the reactor (with a moderator [paraffin wax, water, HDPE, etc] between it and the neutron source, since only thermal neutrons will activate the material) it becomes slightly radioactive with decent neutron fluxes. It has a short half life of only a few minutes, but if you quickly put a geiger counter next to the silver, counts can be detected. In my best runs, I have gotten a piece of silver to about 250CPM over background on a CDV-700 geiger-counter. The disadvantages of this are that it requires a decent neutron flux (at least about 100,000 neutrons/s) which is above the average "beginner's first run" neutron rate. Also, it is somewhat difficult to calibrate, and the counts can't be taken until after the fusor has been shut off.
-A Proportional Tube
Tubes can be purchased which are filled with either BF3 or Helium-3 (some very old tubes are Boron-10 lined inert gas tubes). These tubes, similar to a geiger counter, can be used with a counting device to detect electrical pulses when neutrons pass through the tube. Either an all-in-one counter can be used, often made by a company called Ludlum, or a modular counting system can be made using NIM modules. The tube is surrounded by about 2 inches of moderating material such as wax or water. This is by far the most accurate and useful form of neutron detection, however the cost of a new tube is prohibitive to most people, and they are extremely rare on the surplus market. Also, counting equipment can become quite costly.
NIM Configuration: If you chose to make a NIM setup as I have, the typical layout is a charge sensitive pre-amplifier at the head of the proportional tube, which is plugged into both a high voltage power supply generating positive polarity voltage appropriate for the tube (in the range of 800V-2kV generally). The amplifier also hooks into a shaping amplifier, which is followed by a Single Channel Analyzer (for setting the detection discrimination level), followed by a pulse counter and/or rate meter.
Shown in the first picture is my NIM setup, the second picture is the pre-amplifier attached to a moderated helium-3 tube, the third picture is a bubble detector after being exposed to neutrons.