Superheated emulsions develop visible vapor bubbles when exposed to ionizing radiation. They consist in droplets of a metastable liquid, emulsified in an inert matrix. The formation of a bubble cavity is accompanied by sound waves. Evaporated bubbles also exhibit a lower refractive index, compared to the inert gel matrix. These two physical phenomena have been exploited to count the number of evaporated bubbles and thus measure the interacting radiation flux. Systems based on piezoelectric transducers have been traditionally used to acquire the acoustic (pressure) signals generated by bubble evaporation. Such systems can operate at ambient noise levels exceeding 100 dB; however, they are affected by a significant dead time (>10 ms). An optical readout technique relying on the scattering of light by neutron-induced bubbles has been recently improved in order to minimize measurement dead time and ambient noise sensitivity. Beams of infra-red light from light-emitting diode (LED) sources cross the active area of the detector and are deflected by evaporated bubbles. The scattered light correlates with bubble density. Planar photodiodes are affixed along the detector length in optimized positions, allowing the detection of scattered light from the bubbles and minimizing the detection of direct light from the LEDs. A low-noise signal-conditioning stage has been designed and realized to amplify the current induced in the photodiodes by scattered light and to subtract the background signal due to intrinsic scattering within the detector matrix. The proposed amplification architecture maximizes the measurement signal-to-noise ratio, yielding a readout uncertainty of 6% (±1 SD), with 1000 evaporated bubbles in a detector active volume of 150 ml (6 cm detector diameter). In this work, we prove that the intensity of scattered light also relates to the bubble size, which can be controlled by applying an external pressure to the detector emulsion. This effect can be exploited during the readout procedure to minimize shadowing effects between bubbles, which become severe when the latter are several thousands. The detector we used in this work is based on superheated C-318 (octafluorocyclobutane), emulsified in 100 μm ± 10% (1 SD) diameter drops in an inert matrix of approximately 150 ml. The detector was operated at room temperature and ambient pressure.
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