Highly efficient neutron detectors are critical in many sectors, including national security1,2, medicine3, crystallography4 and astronomy5. The main neutron detection technologies currently used involve 3He-gas-filled proportional counters6 and light scintillators7 for thermalized neutrons. Semiconductors could provide the next generation of neutron detectors because their advantages could make them competitive with or superior to existing detectors. In particular, solids with a high concentration of high-neutron-capture nuclides (such as 6Li, 10B) could be used to develop smaller detectors with high intrinsic efficiencies. However, no promising materials have been reported so far for the construction of direct-conversion semiconductor detectors. Here we report on the semiconductor LiInP2Se6 and demonstrate its potential as a candidate material for the direct detection of thermal neutrons at room temperature. This compound has a good thermal-neutron-capture cross-section, a suitable bandgap (2.06 electronvolts) and a favourable electronic band structure for efficient electron charge transport. We used α particles from an 241Am source as a proxy for the neutron-capture reaction and determined that the compact two-dimensional (2D) LiInP2Se6 detectors resolved the full-energy peak with an energy resolution of 13.9 per cent. Direct neutron detection from a moderated Pu–Be source was achieved using 6Li-enriched (95 per cent) LiInP2Se6 detectors with full-peak resolution. We anticipate that these results will spark interest in this field and enable the replacement of 3He counters by semiconductor-based neutron detectors.
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