Berkeley Lab

Gamma-Ray Tracking as a Basis for a New Concept in 3D Imaging

Nuclear physics enables new ways to see gamma radiation in three dimensions.

Image courtesy of Ross Barnowski, LBNL



The Science                       

Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have used a technique called gamma-ray tracking, initially developed and refined by physicists wanting to study the structure of the atomic nucleus, to “see” gamma radiation in the environment. Fusing the three-dimensional gamma-ray image with the visible images of the three dimensional scene enables scientists to pinpoint and characterize sources of gamma radiation in the world around us.

The Impact

This new concept of three-dimensional gamma-ray vision enables new capabilities in the detection and mapping of radiological materials. Applications might include real-time monitoring of the operation of nuclear facilities, detection of illicit materials, and identification and characterization of radiological materials released into the environment.


Whether to improve our understanding of astrophysical processes in the Universe or to monitor the movement of radiological materials in the environment, “seeing” gamma radiation helps us understand the world around us. The underlying concept is based on the ability to track gamma rays in position-sensitive detectors. This technique has been developed and refined by nuclear scientists interested in studying the fundamental properties of the atomic nucleus (notably the LBNL-led GRETINA/GRETA collaboration). Researchers now use gamma-ray tracking techniques for a broader range of applications in medicine, security, and environmental monitoring. The new application under development at LBNL fuses the tracked three-dimensional reconstructions of gamma-ray sources with the visible images of the surrounding scene in real time. The sensors are able to move relative to the source and pinpoint the origin of the gamma-radiation accurately and immediately. Such systems will find multiple uses whether as portable devices or as fixed detectors. One could envision using such instrumentation for real-world situations such as monitoring at nuclear plants, searching for illicit materials, or in the response following the accidental release of radioactive materials into the environment.


Kai Vetter
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


This work was funded by DHS/DNDO and NNSA/NA22 with the work being performed at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley.


Barnowski, A. Haefner, L. Mihailescu, K. Vetter, “Scene Data Fusion: Enabling Real-Time Volumetric Gamma-Ray Imaging”, accepted Nucl. Instr. Meth.

Related Links

The Applied Nuclear Physics Program at LBNL –

The GRETINA/GRETA project at LBNL –