Nuclear densometer

Nuclear densometer

A nuclear densometer is a field instrument used in geotechnical engineering to determine the density of a compacted material. Also known as a soil density gauge, the device uses the interaction of gamma radiation with matter to measure density, either through direct transmission or the "backscatter" method. The device determines the density of material by counting the number of photons emitted by a radioactive source (cesium-137) that are read by the detector tubes in the gauge base. A 60-second time interval is typically used for the counting period.

In direct transmission mode, the source extends through the base of the gauge into a predrilled hole, positioning the source at the desired depth. The testing procedure is analogous to burying a known quantity of radioactive material at a specific depth, and then using a Geiger counter at the ground surface to measure how effectively the soil's density blocks the penetration of gamma radiation through the soil. As the soil's density increases, less radiation can pass through it, owing to dispersion from collisions with electrons in the soil being tested.

Since the soil's moisture level is partly responsible for its in-place density, the gauge also contains a neutron moisture gauge consisting of a americium/beryllium high-energy neutron source and a thermal neutron detector. The high-energy neutrons are slowed when they collide with hydrogen atoms, and the detector then counts the "slowed" neutrons. This count is proportional to the soil's water content, since the hydrogen in this water (H2O) is responsible for almost all the hydrogen found in most soils. The gauge calculates the moisture content, subtracts it from the soil's in-place (wet) density, and reports the soil's dry density.

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