National Nuclear Security Administration

X-ray innovation sees NNSA researchers through any challenge

November 9, 2016

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X-Ray Day image

The Pantex Plant’s Felicia Bellis uses controls to move a turntable of the microfocus X-ray machine, one of many technologies Pantex technicians use to ensure quality. On Nov. 8, 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen found that an experimental bulb, despite being covered in cardboard, could produce images on photo paper that showed the insides of objects. He used his discovery to take the first X-ray photograph, revealing the bones of his wife’s outstretched hand.

Thanks to Röntgen’s discovery, subsequent innovations in X-ray technologies opened up new frontiers for science and engineering. At NNSA’s labs and sites, X-rays supports stockpile stewardship, nonproliferation, fundamental science, medicine, and much more.

NNSA’s cutting-edge scientists have moved way past Röntgen’s homemade hand portraits. Today, NNSA researchers support bioimaging techniques enabling molecular-level analysis for drug discovery and other applications.

In national security, X-rays provide windows for researchers to watch what happens during experiments—and even make tiny movies, deepening understanding for materials science, toxicology, nuclear energy, and nuclear weapons verification. Radiography helps develop and refine computer simulations for ensuring the nation’s stockpile, understanding materials’ internal structure, and even saving Earth from asteroids.

Y-12 National Security Complex recently acquired one of the most high-performing X-ray diffractometers available today, which will allow scientists to study uranium. NNSA researchers have enabled on-the-spot X-ray vision for accidents, crime scenes, battlefields, airports, and sports sidelines with a pocket-sized X-ray source. NNSA X-ray innovation is also saving the lives of explosive ordnance disposal technicians on the battlefield.

NNSA’s technicians use X-ray methods to ensure quality of their work, such as microfocus radiography to inspect welds. NNSA’s Pantex Plant is also home to the world’s only X-ray system for inspecting the core of nuclear weapons.

As the nation’s Uranium Center of Excellence, NNSA’s Y-12 National Security Complex needs to study the element with a complex internal structure that changes with each processing step. High-performing, high-resolution X-ray diffractometers allow scientists to peer at the intricacies of uranium.

The MiniMAX is the world’s smallest, most portable X-ray machine that was developed by researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.