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In typical NAA, stable nuclides (AZ, the target nucleus) in the sample undergo
neutron capture reactions in a flux of (incident) neutrons. The radioactive nuclides
(A+1Z, the compound nucleus) produced in this activation process will,
in most cases, decay through the emission of a beta particle (β-) and
gamma ray(s) with a unique half-life. A high-resolution gamma-ray spectrometer is used to detect these "delayed" gamma rays from
the artificially induced radioactivity in the sample for both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
An example of the gamma-ray spectrum from the activation of a human nail used as a biological monitor of trace-element status is shown below.