The mission of the Physical Detection Systems and Deployment Division is to discover, develop, and deploy physical detection systems – domestically and in more than 100 countries around the globe. We steward deep subject matter expertise in physics, materials science, engineering, and project execution. We integrate these disciplines to transition technology into operational environments.

PNNL researchers use cryogenic devices such as dilution refrigerators to understand quantum mechanical phenomena at extremely low temperatures

We discover:

  • The nature of matter, including the elusive neutrino and the character of dark matter. Neutrino properties might explain why our universe is not simply full of radiation and most of that matter is “dark,” known only through its gravity.
  • Materials for quantum systems. Our teams of materials scientists and radiofrequency engineers reveal and eliminate sources of unwanted noise and quantum interference and use simulation to improve the design and construction of qubits.
Dave Sheen gave an overview of PNNL’s millimeter wave technology and emerging technologies to Dimitri Kusnezov, Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate

We develop: 

  • In-place monitoring systems to detect, counter, and exploit adversaries in the radiofrequency spectrum. Machine intelligence coupled with flexible hardware and software allows for unprecedented sensitivity, scalability, and adaptability.
  • Millimeter-wave imaging systems to the field for contraband detection at airports and for specialized operators. Next-generation systems will allow real-time screening of moving passengers. On the technology frontier are autonomous systems for venues such as schools and stadiums.
  • Noble gas detection systems such as the Argon-37 Field System, the world’s most sensitive measurement system targeting soil gas samples. It is one of only two integrated systems that are rapidly deployable and capable of detecting Argon-37’s weak emissions.
Allen Seifert verifies the calibration settings while Emily Mace loads a copper detector into the ultra-low-background counting system (ULBCS)

We deploy: 

  • The world’s most sensitive radiation detectors in PNNL’s Shallow Underground Laboratory and deeper underground locations (e.g., Sudbury Neutrino Observatory). This unique cleanroom facility enables scientists to create exceptionally radio-pure materials for ultra-low-background radiation detectors.
  • Machine learning algorithms with commercial radiation portal monitors throughout the world. These algorithms help reduce nuisance alarm rates for front-line officers thereby increasing the chances of detecting smuggled radiological and nuclear materials.
  • Security systems using cloud-enabled architectures to transmit high-priority alarms and video signals directly to those responsible for the security of high-activity radioactive materials. PNNL’s Sentry-SECURE delivers the capability for enhanced situational awareness in support of law enforcement agencies and more than 500 partner sites across the United States.