Careers in Physics Part XII: Homeland Security

Kevin Pitts

Decision Sciences uses cosmic ray muons to image large cargo containers.
Decision Sciences uses cosmic ray muons to image large cargo containers.

I heard a talk today from Illinois alumni Michael Sossong about using cosmic ray muons to image large cargo containers. 

This is really cool. Cosmic rays are raining down on us all the time.   Mike’s company, Decision Sciences International, have developed detectors and imaging software to use these cosmic rays to “x-ray” large cargo containers. It takes about 30 seconds of exposure to image a semi-truck. In that 30 seconds, they can identify nuclear material and they can identify the types of material used to shield nuclear material (like lead.)

It’s really easy to see how a physicist would fit in with a company like this. The understanding of how the cosmic rays interact with materials, detector technology, and pattern recognition software are all right up our alley.  

Folks are hoping to use this type of technology to image the damaged nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. It’s amazing stuff, made possible by nature and some very smart people.

Of course there are lots of other applications in these areas. Imaging techniques, nuclear physics, communications, information technology. These all rely on physics. 

Just to give one more, the United Nations group who went to Syria to evaluate whether they used chemical weapons had to include people who have a strong understanding of physics. For example, that group utilized information from the debris to reconstruct the type and trajectory of the missiles involved.

Physics and technology are everywhere, and there are career opportunities in lots of places.