Innovation and Partnerships Office

Advanced Penning Ion Source IB-3139

The Berkeley Lab Advanced Penning Ion Source offers neutron generator manufacturers and the medical, security, and materials analysis industries a simple, low cost solution that can boost source performance in conventional technologies by improving the atomic ion fraction and ion current density without increasing the power consumption of commercially available Penning ion sources.


  • Neutron generators for medical, security and research applications


  • Enables low power neutron generator with high neutron yield


Researchers from Berkeley Lab have developed the Advanced Penning Ion Source, which offers users an up to eightfold increase in neutron yield over conventional Penning ion sources. The Berkeley Lab technology can generate a higher neutron yield than previous technologies, but without increased power usage and electrical energy costs.

Unlike conventional Penning ion sources where over 90% of extracted ions are molecular, necessitating high beam energy and current to obtain suitable neutron yields for imaging and interrogation applications, the invention’s unique design allows neutron yield to be proportional to the ion current. For example, a tenfold increase in the invention’s ion current density directly results in a tenfold increase in the neutron yield, whereas ion currents in commercially available neutron generators typically fall in the tens of µA range.

Neutron generator manufacturers and the medical, security, and materials analysis industries have long used Penning ion sources for neutron generation through deuterium-deuterium or deuterium-tritium fusion reactions due to their low power consumption, ease of operation, and compactness. However, neutron generators that currently implement Penning ion sources are expensive to run, as they require increased power consumption through high beam energy and current to obtain industry’s desired high neutron yields.

With the additional advantages of potentially longer neutron source lifetime and the elimination of risk for accidental or malevolent dispersal of radioactive materials, the Berkeley Lab technology may also replace radiological neutron sources (i.e., Cf-252, 2.5-year half-life) currently used for prompt gamma neutron activation analysis.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Proven principle.

STATUS:  Issued U. S. Patent #9,484,176.  Available for licensing or collaborative research.


A. Sy, Q. Ji, A. Persaud, O. Waldmann, and T. Schenkel, “Novel methods for improvement of a Penning ion source for neutron generator applications,” Review of Scientific Instruments 83, 02B309 (2012);