Radiation Sensor Shield For The Arduino

The [Libelium] team wanted to help people in Japan measure radiation in their surroundings following the nuclear accident in Fukushima. Because of the affordability and seeming ubiquity of the Arduino platform, they have been hard at work this last month trying to get their Geiger counter sensor board for an Arduino out the door. We think they’ve done a remarkable job.

A Geiger tube is a remarkably simple device, but getting the part can be a fairly expensive proposition. Thankfully, [Libelium] has already tested and verified a number of tubes from different manufacturers – very helpful if you don’t want to be tied down to one specific component.

This looks like this is just the sort of thing that the folks at [Seed Studio] wanted for an open hardware radiation detector, and [Libelium] has already shipped their first batch to the Tokyo Hackerspace. It’s good to know that help is going where it’s needed.

Video of the sensor board being tested after the break.


49 thoughts on “Radiation Sensor Shield For The Arduino

  1. Drew, there are many different opinions about whether Japanese people are in danger of radiation or not. After reading a lot about the case, I think the danger is being ‘inflated’ by the media. But it’s still a complicated matter. The point is that people who know something are helping people who don’t know something – and that’s the thing that matters here.

  2. @Drew, thanks for sharing your feelings.

    I feel like there’s easily enough PCB real estate to add a $2 AVR and make this board *into* an Arduino workalike, for anybody who doesn’t want to spend an extra $35 to get a functional counter. The additional layout could be left unpopulated if you’re determined to sell this primarily as an Arduino shield, incurring zero extra manufacturing cost.

    Arduino makes sense for prototyping. This is a (presumably) permanent embedded application which requires you to have a $35 add-on floating around to dedicate to each unit.

  3. dont rush due to sudden demand on Gaiger counters Chinese will probably start manufacturing good precise and affordable solid state counters in a year. Now most methods too outdated or expensive

  4. Meh.. Geiger counters are inaccurate for the general civil use Dosimeters are more easier to understand and less “freak out” factor such as well click click on every thing thats made….

  5. I am in Fukushima, Japan now.

    @Drew we do need geiger counters.

    @Simon we aren’t knee deep in GCs. They are hard to find here. If you think there’s no problem come visit Fukushima.

  6. In a month cooking hacks went from watching in horror to having actually constructed something useful. It isn’t a magic turn key solution that will solve the evolving crisis, but a flexible part that will help some people immensely and lets them work quickly from identifying a unique need to making something that works right now.

    You guys are so not going to be on my team when a disaster happens. Some one develops a part that gives me information that I otherwise can’t obtain in a way that I can record and manipulate I am damn well going to use the hell out of it. If it doesn’t fit my need I will modify it.

    Program up a dosimeter that explains the comparative level you received that day/week. add haptic feedback, make areas literally hot above background. put it on a wii controller and make a visualization. use just the pulse output and 5v with your own system. Put them on kites and balloons. Stick one down the well. I want to know now what is happening, I want to show it to people in ways they can understand and I want to keep busy helping instead of waiting idle and wondering if what I’m being told is accurate or helpful. Sitting idle is probably the worst thing to do.

    The schematic is there, you might even be able to get some eagle files if you ask nicely so you can add the $2 avr on. or 555 timers if you want to be pure of geek. Saying they should have, or even more wishywashyly “Feeling” they should have is not really doing anything for the people of japan.

    I don’t know any hackers who would feel that the header pins (hand soldered in all the pictures btw) are a hard and fast constraint for how to use it, merely a connivence and suggestion.

    Or you could wait for china to manufacture something for you in a year.

  7. >>The [Libelium] team wanted to help
    >>people in Japan measure radiation

    It’s being measured already.. you can’t turn on the TV without the news reading out the latest figures.

    >>We think they’ve done a remarkable job.

    Yes all we need is more people going ON NOES RADIATION!!!. Western news outlets are publishing “Japanese crazy worried about radiation, population want answers etc” when in reality there are very few people that fit that evaluation. The only people that are running away seem to be eikaiwa employees.

    >>It’s good to know
    >>that help is going where it’s needed.

    I think the people that actually need/needed help.. you know the people that had their whole town float away would disagree with you there. And the people living in sports halls etc because they have been moved out of Fukushima.. I don’t think they give a shit about this either to be 100% honest with you. Hint: kits for these things are already available in Japan, it’s not some 3rd country that needs pity.

  8. I want to ask for advice
    ok I dont understand radiation so dont judge me ,I know that there is no much difference between X-Ray tube and spark gap, so this mean that any high voltage discharge can produce it. I like high voltage experimentation. So what kind of devise should I get to monitor potential exposure danger ?

  9. >>them work quickly from identifying a
    >>unique need to making something that

    What makes you think that a highly developed nation, that exports high tech, needs to import these from outside?

    >>I otherwise can’t obtain in a way that

    There are people in Japan taking readings. Again.. this isn’t out in the sticks in Africa or something.

    >>doing anything for the people of japan.

    And this is? Do you live in Japan? Do you realise the biggest problem for most of us living here hasn’t been radiation but potential blackouts and supply problems? This isn’t helping anyone that is “in need” don’t try to make it out to be as such.

  10. A little while ago I came up with the idea of building one of those “mini” SBM21 tubes into a surplus step counter, as a mobile dosimeter.

    This is feasible, with careful construction the current drain can be kept low enough to run from a LiPo cell for several weeks with the counter running from a separate supply.

  11. http://www.cooking-hacks.com/index.php/documentation/tutorials/geiger-counter-arduino-radiation-sensor-board#supported_tubes

    not a single flag with a red dot. And if there are supply problems and black outs, that kind of suggests manufacturing and development of a new product might be a low priority compared to keeping the economy flowing making toyota gas pedals for export and such.

    General monitoring is okay, TEPCO seems to be responding with information quicker now that independent sources are also keeping track. I can’t see how everyone is so resistant to specific information like knowing if I need to throw my clothes out because I went for a walk in the rain. Or being able to see in perspective the equiv of how many bananas, hours in an airplane, chest x-rays etc received. Radiation might not be as general a problem and as immediate (in some places) as shelter, food and ruined infrastructure, or even grief. It is still an actual health concern that can be alleviated with education and accurate data, something that can either be hands on and specific, or general from the media.

  12. This will be nothing for the people of Japan, they don’t need these things. And even if they did, do you really think they’d trust their own safety to a toy like this put together by some random hackers? I sure as hell wouldn’t.

    Also I don’t see any mention of part of the profits going to Japan (yes, I see they’ve shipped a few units for free, big deal).

  13. I really don’t understand this schematic.
    Is this a self oscillating HV converter?
    What are this transistors additional transistors for? Their basis seems to be connected to nothing.
    Why don’t they drive the switch directly by the MCU, and measure the output voltage with the ADC,
    like other designs do it?
    Doing it that way, you could also adapt the output voltage to different counter tubes.
    The old victoreen tubes, that you can buy on ebay for a few bucks, need 900V, whereas most modern tubes need around 500V.

  14. This further propagates the idea that some terrible nuclear accident happened there. That is not the case.
    A terrible accident in the form of a very large earthquake and a devastating tsunami happened, that has cost more than 10.000 people their lives and made a multitude of that number homeless. The events at Fukushima completely pale in comparison. Nobody died of the radiation released, and probably nobody will either. Quite a few people will die from the panic they were whipped in to by the papers/media. (OTOH, that is just darwin weeding out the people unfit for life IMHO.)

  15. I see no harm in shipping these to hacker spaces in Japan. Any help is help. Period.
    I’m appalled at the arrogance shown by those in the comments above that think this is a wasted effort.

    Good job Libelium.

  16. Hey if anyone does this and has a real source of radiation let me know how it works. I am very curious of the tube saturation level, which i have seen in very complex units. Wish I had the time i would order one and try myself.

  17. Got anything that will make the people that watch Fox news hide in their basement in fear? After all the hysteria they tried to drum up after the reactor problems I’d love to see a lot of these tea party lemmings cower in fear over nothing.. How can I make one of these read way higher than it should?

  18. Another good use is to hook to your computer and record background radiation levels to detect increases during solar flare events. I live very north and when we have a major solar flare event and the northern lights are directly overhead, at night when you close your eyes you can occasionally see flashes of light like the astronauts do because of radiation.

    “When charged particles cross a polar transparent medium (such as the water in our eye globes) at a velocity greater than the speed of light in that medium, that particle produces a “wake” of polarization of the molecules of the medium. When the molecules return to their normal state, they emit light which is the blue flash they observe. This is also common for airline pilots travelling at high altitudes at night, especially for flights crossing near the polar caps where the geomagnetic field lines direct incoming solar wind and radiation.”

  19. >>I need to throw my clothes out because
    >> I went for a walk in the rain.

    If that was the case here there would be warnings almost instantly on the television and I guess mobile phones would start going off like they do when earthquakes are happening. Again.. we are talking about a highly developed nation here and not some backwater.

  20. @Ryan McDonald

    Well, do you understand any Japanese.. if you could work out how to type Geiger as katakana (ヒント:ガイガー) you could search Yahoo Auctions and *** DRUM ROLL *** there are a good ten pages of Geiger counters.. there are a ton with 1 yen starts.

    >>there’s no problem come visit Fukushima.

    Where are all the melting people? What, there aren’t any? That guy that is still looking after his cows pretty close to the plant is still doing well enough to appear on the news.. people aren’t bursting into flames and unless you’re a crazy paranoid you have no reason to carry your own Geiger counter. Don’t be such a drama queen.

  21. GM tubes operate at a voltage known as the “plateau” region – where the CPM changes little with changes in voltage.

    Each type of tube has its own plateau region, so someone making counters really should determine the plateau region of each tube and verify that their unit operates in this region.

    The CPM per voltage changes little within this region, but it does change (typically 10%). One should choose a fixed voltage in the plateau range and then calibrate one unit at this selected voltage in order to calculate the conversion from CPM to dosage (Sieverts).

    The conversion factor will be different for each type of tube, and for each voltage chosen for that tube. There is no way for the buyer to know what this conversion is without some calibration standard.

    So in summary, unless the builder publishes a table listing tubes, recommended voltage to run that tube, and conversion factor for that tube at that voltage, there is no way for the consumer to know how much radiation they are getting.

    The seeed studio unit schematic shows the entire HV output being shunted by the zener diode chain, with no current limiting resistor. CCFL inverters typically generate 100ma or more, so if the output voltage is 50 volts over the regulated value, that’s a whopping 5 watts dissipated by the zeners.

    These units may burn out quickly in the field. (I’m making some assumptions which may be wrong – feel free to correct.)

    Making these units is a very good idea, but everyone is in a rush to get their units out the door and into the hands of people who can use them.

    Anyone can make a circuit that clicks in the presence of radiation, the trick is to make a unit that makes the measurement meaningful.

  22. Man people, stop ragging on the team. Even if the counter isn’t useful, they’ve still cooked up something that can provide a base for something else useful. You want to run it with it’s own AVR? Design one yourself. Want to have a dosimeter? Design one yourself. Want profits to go back to Japan relief funds? Start your own company. If you’re going to criticize for trying and having flaws, then get off your computer and do something yourself.

    Great project btw,I think it’s great they’ve designed a system that isn’t tied down to only one type of tube. A step in the right direction for usability and affordability.

  23. I made a Arduino based geiger counter, or more accurately, used the arduino to count pulses from a circuit that has a TTL level output.

    I then used the virtual COM port to connect it to my server, created a logging script and coupled it to SNMP and I am currently graphing it with Cacti.

    Details on my project can be found on my website.

    Btw, shields are nice but in the end it’s cheaper to put everything on a dedicated board, I am planning on putting up my counter permanently on the roof inside a stevenson screen :)

  24. I am four-square in favor of these projects. Many academics are quick to dismiss these efforts as meaningless, but they are wrong. Hobbyists can make useful and valid contributions to science and society in general, so long as they are conscientious and careful.

    I am pointing out these issues to make the designers aware, so that they can improve their product. Ignore any perceived combative tone – that’s just the way I talk.

    GM tubes have an “aperture” and a “capture ratio”. The aperture is the area which lets radiation in, and the capture ratio is the % of events which are recognized by the unit. The capture ratio is fixed by the tube design and voltage (typically 10%), while the aperture is related to the size of the tube.

    End-window tubes are somewhat directional and are useful for pointing at things, where you can place the window right up against the sample.

    Side-window long tubes are less directional and have a larger aperture, and are more useful for picking up lower levels in the general environment.

    GM tubes have a quenching gas which tends to extinguish the discharge spark soon after it forms. Tubes which use hydrocarbon gas (ie – alcohol vapor) for quenching use up a little of the gas at every count.

    This is not usually a problem, but it means that the tubes have a finite lifetime. After awhile, they stop responding. It’s very long while and related to usage, but it is finite.

    Tubes which use halogen gas for quenching do not wear out.

    Many used tubes sold on eBay are hydrocarbon-quenched, and are at the end of their useful lifetime.

    There is nothing in the write-ups which discusses which type of tube is appropriate for which purpose, which tubes to watch out for, or any of that. Most buyers will go on eBay and just grab the cheapest tube they can find.

    The people building these devices are making a product, and as a product they should make all possible effort to provide a good experience to the end users.

    Just putting together a circuit is not all there is to making a product. Any real business would have testers to ensure quality, tech writers to choose the right descriptive language, website designers to make a pleasing presentation, mechanical engineers to design a box, and customer support people to divert anger.

    Each of these jobs requires it’s own expertise. Designing the circuit is only one facet of a product, and it’s the fun part. You need to address all the other facets in order to actually produce the product.

    Failing to do that will condemn you to a time of grief and aggravation, and will color your reputation. Who will want to purchase from you in the future?

    Worse than that, a failed product sets up an association in your mind. You will be less likely to attempt something in the future because of a failure you have today. It’s not absolute, but it builds up. You can subconsciously convince yourself that you can’t succeed in business.

    Take a step back and consider the device as a product. Decide whether you want to really address the uninteresting areas, or whether you just want to throw it up on Instructables for others to see.

  25. @Hackaday, grammar nazis

    I made a spelling mistake, this is all you have to say? Well, English is not my mother tonge and yes, I make the spelling mistakes time to time. I’m sorry, I really try to do better.

    But I still stay with my opinion. The problem is not the natural disaster but the peoples ignorance and greed that caused even bigger disaster.

    Of course this might be a problem everywhere but Fukushima is one fine example of it and I do not stand that people try to hide it and blame the natural disasters.

    So Japanese wanted to profit from nuclear power. Who would not? I can not blame here. Now earhquakes and tsunamis are no suprise in this region so you better design and make a nuclear plant that can stand them.

    Did Fukushima stand? Well you know the answer. Was the problem known to Tepco and Japanese goverment? Of course it was.

    So was the core of the problem earthquake and tsunami or ingnorance and greed?

    Unfortunatelly this was only the beginning.

    Finest example of the ignorance and greed is Japan prime minister suggestion to eat food from around the Fukushima because it would support the economy of the region.

    Maybe even more finest example of the ignorance and greed is bumping the highly radioactive water directly into ocean instead of first solidifying it and then storing it in safe location (yes, this is possible). Even using specialised tanker to transport the contaminated water away is not used.

    This will pollute the water and from there the Japanese most popular dish – fresh fish.

    So do Japanese need every possible way to check radioactivity? I very much do belive so because most dangerous contact with the radioactivity is when it is coming from inside of you.

  26. Cantido, Is this a cultural impedance mismatch? Offering open source tools is an act of compassion, which is the opposite of pity. I see that you do have similar tools available and I see that there are more immediate concerns of food, shelter and infrastructure. I never meant to imply that the nation doesn’t have a system in place or is incapable of producing the knowledge and understanding.

    The ground, one of the things I count on as being static and stable just up and broke, then the tsunami took most man made things away. In this Fukushima broke. It broke badly. It doesn’t mean radiation sickness for the whole nation but an area the size of the core of my state is now decidedly unsafe, and with things not fully contained or where they should be it creates a rather variable situation where proximity, intensity and time need to be tracked. In compassion, there is empathy of trying to imagine if you were there and THIS IS REALLY DAMN SCARRY. Assuming that I am lucky enough to not be dealing with very immediate issues I am looking at the mid term picture of radiation exposure above background does have consequence and is rather variable.

    Can you tell me on a scale of banana, tans-atlantic flight, x-ray what your personal exposure was in the last week? did you take on an extra banana because you went to the store in the rain. Is that square water mellon safe? It’s not giving into hysteria to take an active interest, it’s not a dis to accept tools and to adapt them, we know that there is a use for them.

    Incidentally, I pity how the Russians handled Chernobyl and the general ignorance of the cleanup and management of it. I truly admire the ~50 and everyone working who know the actual risks.

    and as an aside, while I think America’s “giter done” attitude would be pretty useful in the same situation, I wouldn’t trust the American public to be able to pick up and carry on in any sane fashion. There was maybe 45 minutes of shocked sanity after 9-11 before the reaction went all pear shaped.

  27. I think what DREW is saying is that this isn’t really useful and is more of a sales pitch so that everyone else in the world will buy this shield. Remember when the XO laptops came out for schools and the like in Africa etc, and how you could get one if bla bla…. every idiot with a webcam had videos of themselves unpacking one. Oh yeah and some kid might get one for school work but who cares about that right?

    So yeah an Arduino shield, probably not that helpful.

  28. It’s disappointing that so many people, who have in all likelyhood never contributed anything of value to any community, actually put effort into dissing the efforts of others.
    I don’t beleive in karma, but it’s a damn neat idea that I’d love to see realized on all the worthless trolls that plague this and other boards.

    Good job Libelium.

  29. @Lol

    I disagree with out. First have you checked dosimeter and geiger counter prices on eBay lately? You do not have to pay hand and leg for it.

    Secondly this product is in stock. You do not have to wait until middle of the sommer to get some.

    Thirdly they sent first patch into Japan free of charge.

    Fourth this is open source hardware. You are free to buy all the components (including the geiger tube from eBay) on your own and build it by your self.

    And when it does not help Japanese then it might still be usuful for Americans and Europeans because it appears that Japanese do not have any intention to shut the plants down in near future so the radioactive fallout is already entering into European food chain.

  30. @Jordan understood the point of my post, I didn’t mean to say that people in Japan didn’t need Geiger counters. What I was getting at was that an arduino shield isn’t going to help anybody in Japan. A standalone Geiger counter would be much more useful than an arduino shield would. You have to understand, this is a development module for a noncommercial microcontroller platform, which is not particularly useful for people in a disaster situation, unlike what HAD is implying.

  31. Most cold-war era Civil Defense geiger counters are not sensitive enough to measure food. They are to be used AFTER a nuclear event to see if it safe to go outside yet. There were a few CD models as sensitive as the old Uranium Prospector geiger counters, which could be used to check low-level radiation from food and other things you wish to check before allowing into your clean environment. Cumulative exposure (measured with dosimeter) is much more important to survival than instantaneous measurements of things held near the GM tube.

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