Quick, accurate, integrated radiation analysis

By Michael Padilla

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sandia InterSpec software application helps decision makers determine source, type, amount of radiation in real time

REAL-TIME RADIATION ANALYSIS — Researchers Ethan Chan, Alf Morales, and Will Johnson demonstrate how InterSpec is used in the field. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

When law enforcement officers and first responders arrive at an emergency scene involving radiation, they need a way to swiftly assess the situation for safety. Having analysis tools that can quickly and reliably make sense of radiation data is of the essence.

Decision makers in these scenarios can now turn to a new Sandia-developed tool called InterSpec. A software application available for both mobile and traditional computing devices, InterSpec can rapidly and accurately analyze gamma radiation data collected at the scene.

A comprehensive, easy-to-use radiation analysis tool

Software developer and physicist Will Johnson (8646) says InterSpec updates, strengthens, and integrates many radiation analysis tools and resources into a single mobile or desktop application that is seamless and intuitive to use.

“InterSpec allows decision makers to rapidly identify both radioisotopes and shielding materials around the source,” Will says. “InterSpec is also a valuable tool for laboratories and other academic and industrial settings where an accurate understanding of detected radiological material is crucial.”

For the past four years, Sandia researchers have been working to make InterSpec easy to use in any situation by anyone who works with radioactive material. The Sandia team consists of Will, Ethan Chan and Edward Walsh (both 8646), and Noel Nachtigal (8766).

InterSpec was created to be used by individuals who have some radiation knowledge but aren’t necessarily experts. In many situations, radiation experts are not immediately available to assist law enforcement personnel and emergency responders. Using InterSpec, even individuals with limited analysis experience can obtain the detailed radiation information they need to make quick decisions, reducing their dependence on radiation experts, as well as the experts’ analysis loads.

“You can take the radiation data from any detector, and InterSpec will identify the radiation source and calculate the radiation dose,” Edward says. “InterSpec will also tell you if it’s dangerous for you to be around this source. The tool is amazing.”

Available for both mobile and traditional computing devices, InterSpec can quickly analyze gamma radiation data.

Multi-platform tool with more features and a larger database

InterSpec provides quick, useful radiation analysis by coupling radiation physics, radiation transport calculations, detector response functions, and a radioisotope database that is much larger than those found in similar products. These attributes enable InterSpec to rapidly compute quantities of interest, reducing user errors.

Unlike radiation analysis software packages that are limited to Windows systems, InterSpec runs on multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, iOS, and Android, and on all web browsers.

The wide range of platforms means that users in different settings can quickly exchange data and share a unified view of the data. Furthermore, InterSpec works in isolated or shielded environments with no network connectivity needed.

“We’ve made InterSpec as easy as possible to use,” says Ethan. “You don’t have to spend two or three years to learn the tool. InterSpec is really simple, both in how it looks and how you use it.”

InterSpec features include work tracking, the ability to view and edit metadata, a help function, and automatic saving of spectrum files. The spectrum files include location-embedded metadata for visualization on a map, so users can select a geographical region of measurements to sum for spectral analysis.

First-time users can access InterSpec’s help system, as well as tool tips that describe each button’s function. In addition, intuitive icons enable users to move around the app quickly.

Using InterSpec in the field

Will serves on a DOE team tasked with identifying various types of radiation found throughout the country.

“The goal of the team is to figure out if detected radiation is a threat or not,” he explains. “InterSpec helps determine if an item is a potential threat, and if so, what kind.”

Will says InterSpec has helped the team respond to actual events in the field. “The ability to analyze data before reaching a traditional computer or in situations where only a phone or tablet could be taken has proved extremely useful.”

“InterSpec can be used to help determine the source nuclide type, strength, and shielding inside sealed boxes or cargo containers,” Will says.

The Sandia team is working to make InterSpec available to people who conduct radiation measurement analysis so that they can benefit from the improved workflows, capabilities, and time savings of InterSpec.