Neutron activation analysis

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In chemistry, neutron activation analysis (NAA) is a nuclear process used for determining the concentrations of elements in a vast amount of materials. NAA allows discrete sampling of elements as it disregards the chemical form of a sample, and focuses solely on its nucleus. The method is based on neutron activation and therefore requires a source of neutrons. The sample is bombarded with neutrons, causing the elements to form radioactive isotopes. The radioactive emissions and radioactive decay paths for each element are well known. Using this information, it is possible to study spectra of the emissions of the radioactive sample, and determine the concentrations of the elements within it. A particular advantage of this technique is that it does not destroy the sample, and thus has been used for analysis of works of art and historical artifacts. NAA can also be used to determine the activity of a radioactive sample.

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Overview

Neutron activation analysis is a sensitive multi-element analytical technique used for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of major, minor, trace and rare elements. NAA was discovered in 1936 by Hevesy and Levi, who found that samples containing certain rare earth elements became highly radioactive after exposure to a source of neutrons [1]. This observation led to the use of induced radioactivity for the identification of elements. NAA is significantly different from other spectroscopic analytical techniques in that it is based not on electronic transitions but on nuclear transitions. To carry out an NAA analysis the specimen is placed into a suitable irradiation facility and bombarded with neutrons, this creates artificial radioisotopes of the elements present. Following irradiation the artificial radioisotopes decay via the emission of particles or more importantly gamma rays, which are characteristic of the element from which they were emitted.

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