Geiger counter tells you if your dishes are radioactive


[Henrik] really turned out a nice little Geiger counter board based on a cold war era Geiger tube.

It works in much the same way as other projects along the same lines. It does run on batteries if needed, which is no small feat since the tube wants high voltage to operate correctly. And the video after the break shows it spitting out readings to a terminal window when connected to a computer via USB.

But what really caught our eye is the radioactive source material he used for testing. Since he didn’t have anything on hand he had to order something, and ended up going with a couple shards from a dinner plate. A radioactive dinner plate to exact and it’s a brand name you’ve probably heard of before. Red Fiesta Ware apparently used to be radioactive. It’s even mentioned in the intro to the Wikipedia article. Go figure!

One other thing we noticed was [Henrik’s] method of interfacing his multimeter with a breadboard. One of the project photos shows the probe with thin wire wrapped around the tip. We assume this is to make it easy to plug into the breadboard.

Despite this little digression away from the main project we did really enjoy learning about his build. And you can see him showing it off in the clip after the break.

46 thoughts on “Geiger counter tells you if your dishes are radioactive

    1. Yep. I have a bunch of green colored vaseline glass which was colored with Uranium Dioxide. It even glows the sterotypical radioactive green when placed under a black light. Im surprised this guy broke antique plates when he could have just used the sensor from a smoke detector which has Americum-241.

      1. An CI-22BG is not going to detect alphas. Also, you shouldn’t take apart smoke detectors. The sources are often poorly seated (and can flake off), and it’s also highly illegal.

          1. It’s a felony to tamper with the Am-241 source. The weird thing is that it’s perfectly OK to dispose of smoke detectors in a landfill (provided you’re an individual disposing in reasonable quantities)

          2. No, I don’t find the disposal of the sources in a landfill odd. It’s a tiny amount, and it wouldn’t raise the background radiation a bit. Now if you tried to dispose of a truckload of smoke detectors, you’d likely run into some serious $$$.

  1. This guy is the reason we need to justify to digikey why we need to buy a resistor and to who we are going to sellit… god forbid the chinese get hold of something they produced.

      1. I think he’s confusing large parts shops with specialty mfgrs who normally only sell their product in bulk; when you ask for a price quote the sales people will usually demand details of its use and target before beginning to negotiate/deal with you.

        1. he did nothing wrong with the geiger counter was being sarcastic, im just getting tired of the usa always telling others that they are the “rightfull society”, the “land of the free” and that others are bad/comunist/terrorist countries, well guess what in europe if a airport security guard was required to pat a underage child for fear of bombs there would be riots on the streets for abuse of power and we can export goods without having to justify to security agencies to who whe are selling a freaking resistor…

          Society is looking at anything that does not have a brand logo on the package as a possible bomb, while getting spoon fed by movies that bombs need a timer clock and that somehow cuting the right cable going to the explosive will somehow stop the clock. its ridiculous and sad, lets hope that it will not lead to a future were we can’t even order basic parts.

          /rant sorry about that

  2. People freak out when they hear “radiation.” There are low-level radiation sources everywhere and the jury is still out on whether small doses are harmful. There is even some evidence that limited doses can be beneficial. I once was injected with a radioactive solution to do a heart study. At work, we used a detector to follow it’s passage through my digestive system for a couple of days.

    1. That’s because the mechanism involved is statistical, which is a big part of the reason why radioactive dosage contains not only an intensity but also a time component. It’s comparable to Watt vs kWh or Joule.

    2. My favorite unit of radiation is the NSS, or Nights Spooning With Spouse. This is how much radiation you get in a night laying in bed with your significant other. Using this unit helps indicate radiation levels in a way that inherently keeps things in perspective.

  3. Somehow I remember it was the orange that was radioactive. Was in Junior College at the time, and one of the students brought one to physics class so we could play with the geiger counter. Was at the in-laws once and noticed one. “Shirley, did you know this is radioactive?” “SHHH! Melvin eats out of it every morning.” My X commented, “Oh, THAT explains a lot!”

  4. I wash mine in Plutonium to be sure they are sanitized… I know they are radioactive.
    Plus I live in a stone house, Most hypochondriacs here would freak out at the readings they would get.

    1. In a redesign I’d remove the GND trace under R10, put C5 facing away from R10 instead of parallel. Everything between D3 anode and C8 should be clear from other parts of the circuit (including gnd). I can’t see what the fuse at the low voltage side is rated for but I’d take it as low as possible.

  5. Can someone explain to me why there are some many projects based on measuring radioactivity? I have seen a few projects in the various magazines like Elektor, Nuts and Volts and Everyday Practical Electronics over the last few years, but I don’t see how useful the project is unless you live in an area that has been nuked or something.

    1. Radiation is interesting, and not every product is intended to solve an immediate, real-world problem. You wouldn’t criticize someone for building scale models of airplanes just because they can’t ride in the models.

    2. IIRC, years ago there was a nuclear accident at the test lab west (upwind) of Denver, Colorado. The official word released by the government was that the public was not in any danger. However, a couple of professors from the nearby Colorado University in Boulder, walked around the reservoir downwind of the facility with Geiger counters a short time afterward and found it “hotter than Hell”.

      So no, you do not need a Geiger counter, you can trust your government to be proactive and accurately assess any nuclear incident, warn the public of any danger, and evacuate up to a million people if necessary. And the people of Europe had nothing to fear from the Chernobyl meltdown, because as you wrote, they did not live in the area.

    3. I built a Geiger counter after the Chernobyl accident. Safeways threw me out of their shop and banned me for checking out the lamb with it. They said it was frightening the other customers.

      What better reason could there be for building one?

    4. Apart from ionizing radiation being interesting, we humans have absolutely no way of perceiving it…
      Even standing next to a 1Sv/h source, (lethal dose within 4-5 hours) you still wouldn’t feel, see, taste, smell or hear anything…
      (maybe you cold smell the ozone being produced, but you would still be oblivious to the radiation)
      So you have something that definitely can affect your well-being, while you have no way of knowing about it without the detector…

      p.s. almost EVERYTHING around you is radioactive to some degree, it’s kind-of nice to know how much ;-)

    5. I think I know. After the Fukushima incident a group of hackers built and distributed a low-budget design to measure the impact in the surrounding area. They got a lot of traction and I think a lot of the projects are a spin-off.

      For more info they gave a talk at the Computer Chaos Club, but I can’t find it back (

  6. Wrong title, it should be “Geiger counter tells you if your dishes are significantly more radioactive than suspected” :) Porcelain = almost always slightly radioactive due to uranium and thorium traces.

  7. Have you tried to measure that lovely granite top? Radioactivity is all around us and perfectly natural. If you are on a low sodium diet go measure the potassium chloride you use instead of salt. K40 is radioactive…. so are the ashes in your fireplace (in particular from trees that grew during the cold war tests in the US), radon decay in your basement, your concrete foundations, your…. you get the picture. I use a pocket Geiger counter with time averaging software when I do nature hikes. A lot of low level uranium, thorium stuff to be found all over.

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