Toward an energy measurement of the internal conversion electron in the deexcitation of the 229Th isomer

The first excited isomeric state of Th-229 has an exceptionally low energy of only a few eV and could form the gateway to high-precision laser spectroscopy of nuclei. The excitation energy of the isomeric state has been inferred from precision γ spectroscopy, but its uncertainty is still too large to commence laser spectroscopy. Reducing this uncertainty is one of the most pressing challenges in the field. Here we present an approach to infer the energy of the isomer from spectroscopy of the electron which is emitted when the isomer de-excites through internal conversion (IC). The experiment builds on U-233, which α-decays to Th-229 and populates the isomeric state with a 2% branching ratio. A film of U-233 is covered by a stopping layer of few-nm thickness and placed between an α detector and an electron detector, such that the α particle and the IC electron can be detected in coincidence. Retarding field electrodes allow for an energy measurement. In the present design, the signal of the Th-229m IC electrons is masked by low-energy electrons emitted from the surface of the metallic stopping layer. We perform reference measurements with U-232 and U-234 to study systematic effects, and we study various means to reduce the background of low-energy electrons. Our study gives guidelines to the design of an experiment that is capable of detecting the IC electrons and measuring the isomer energy.