Ambitious Homebrew X-Ray Machine Reveals What Lies Within

We’re not quite sure what to say about this DIY X-ray machine. On the one hand, it’s a really impressive build, with incredible planning and a lot of attention to detail. On the other hand, it’s a device capable of emitting dangerous doses of ionizing radiation.

In the end, we’ll leave judgment on the pros and cons of [Fran Piernas]’ creation to others. But let’s just say it’s probably a good thing that a detailed build log for this project was not provided. Still, the build video below gives us the gist of what must have taken an awfully long time and a fair amount of cash to pull off. The business end is a dental X-ray tube of the fixed anode variety. We’ve covered the anatomy and physiology of these tubes previously if you need a primer, but basically, they use a high voltage to accelerate electrons into a tungsten target to produce X-rays. The driver for the high voltage supply, which is the subject of another project, is connected to a custom-wound transformer to get up to 150V, and then to a voltage multiplier for the final boost to 65 kV. The tube and the voltage multiplier are sealed in a separate, oil-filled enclosure for cooling, wisely lined with lead.

The entire machine is controlled over a USB port. An intensifying screen converts the X-rays to light, and the images of various objects are quite clear. We’re especially impressed by the fluoroscopic images of a laptop while its hard drive is seeking, but less so with the image of a hand, presumably [Fran]’s; similar images were something that [Wilhelm Röntgen] himself would come to regret.

Safety considerations aside, this is an incredibly ambitious build that nobody else should try. Not that it hasn’t been done before, but it still requires a lot of care to do this safely.

29 thoughts on “Ambitious Homebrew X-Ray Machine Reveals What Lies Within

    1. Clarence Dally would be a more appropriate figure. He worked on the development of x-ray equipment for Edison early on and died from too much radiation. It made Edison swear off of researching it.

  1. very cool, a bit scary too but the cool factor is much stronger. i have always wanted my own xray machine for electrical and mechanical problem solving. or just plain drooling at designs without diss assembly of devices.

  2. A fluoroscope as the X-ray display??? I thought they were only used in the early 20th century before fast X-ray film became common. Yeah, they’re simple tech, but horribly unsafe because…

    1. Instead of quick millisecond burst to expose film, the X-ray beam has to keep constantly running and irradiating the sample just so you can have the convenience of real-time live imaging, and

    2. The screen is back-lit by the X-ray beam. So if you’re sitting in front of it while while watching, your are sitting DIRECTLY in the X-ray path! You’re firing it directly at your head!

    I sure hope that this person only put his camera in front of the screen, and not sat it front of it live! I can understand using them in the early 1900’s, but today? Just the thought of it makes me shiver.

    1. Yeah, fluoroscopes are a dumb way to do things. A lot of people in the shoe biz learned the hard way – remember those for fitting shoes, back in the day?
      I work with various radiation for a living (see handle). I really hope this guy only got to 65kv or so, easy to stop.
      But assuming I’m wrong – it happens – see this link to my site with a little graph (note log scale) of how crappy even lead is once the energies get high….
      http://www.coultersmithing.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=20&t=1044&sid=b896ee053bd6245b7618067beddf6ef6

      Take it from someone who (barely) lived through maybe a couple hundred mSdose (gammas and neutrons) that happened in few seconds in an unexpected breakthrough in my work. Not sure of the exact numbers as it was enough to make all my counters blank (go low and sit there, instead of pulsing) It’s not a joke….I’m lucky to be alive, but like seasickness, I wasn’t sure about that for quite some time.

      You’ll note that I usually scoff here about all those people who think the world needs bubble wrap and you can’t do that. This ain’t one of those.

      1. So let me get this straight you irradiated yourself over a completely unsustainable, net energy loss fusion experiment. Then pretend that it was remotely energy dense enough to kill you. Thanks for the laugh.

        1. Laugh away, shows your ignorance. You are hereby invited to stand next to said experiment setup, which is ongoing work, and please wear as much gold and silver jewelry as possible so we can measure the residual activation to see how long you’re likely to live thereafter – I had to remote the whole mess to continue working and remove all easily activated elements from the lab. I suggest working out the equivalent calories of the amount of gammas/neutrons that will kill you on the spot as an exercise.
          From wiki:
          “The sievert is the special name for the SI unit of equivalent dose, effective dose, and operational dose quantities. The unit is joule per kilogram.”

          You

          1. don’t have to make kW of radiation (but you’re putting that level of power in, so yes, not at gain yet), just a few trillions of fusions/second, which, given how many atoms there are in even a tenuous plasma, ain’t squat.

            Go stand in front of an old X ray machine so I can get a laugh before the 2-3 cancers finish killing me.

    2. Oh yeah, the image is recorded via a webcam or something with no people in the x-ray beam. You can buy an intensifier for like 20 bucks on ebay. It’s perfectly usable and a lot more fun than developing a bunch of film. It’s possible to do it perfectly safely. Did this guy do that? Maybe not, but I can’t help but be endeared to the effort.

      Also, he’s got a very nice-looking Giger counter. I’m sure he measured the output of the tube and looked up the safe exposure times for that kind of flux before he stuck his hand in there. It’s simple with the proper tools, which Roentgen didn’t have by the way. I think this is perfectly fine, obviously he has a high level of competence. People shouldn’t fret about risk unnecessarily when it’s being properly handled, but the safety crowd here is gradually sliding to the point that anything that isn’t tinkering with a raspberry pi (powered by a sealed PSU of course!) is unacceptably risky.

      If he were working on his car, which can absolutely kill you just as dead as x-rays but isn’t as scary because of a flaw in human risk assessment, likely nobody would be bothered as long as he was following some sort of safety practices. Which he is.

    3. We had a machine the size of a microwave with a source from Field Effect. You looked at a fluorescent screen through a window. X-rays were not directed towards the window, just like an electron microscope screen. And lead or uranium glass windows are not hard to get. http://www.pnwx.com/Accessories/LeadProducts/Windows/ Exposures were usually from 10 seconds to 5 minutes. Nobody needs millisecond power unless specimens are moving.

      “But let’s just say it’s probably a good thing that a detailed build log for this project was not provided. ” Wow. Too bad HaD doesn’t have this attitude about software for cracking and hacking other people’s stuff. And note that my middle school had instructions for DIY X-ray machines when I was a kid. It is a PDF now http://www.sciencemadness.org/library/books/projects_for_the_amateur_scientist.pdf

    1. lol as if the regulators actually have that kind of budget or any teeth at all. When did hackaday get so concerned with regulations which were clearly meant for large professional industries which can potentially put millions at risk as but instead how they apply to some guy in his garage? That’s absolutely not what they care about.

  3. X-ray machines are not so dangerous. Especially not the the x-ray side of things. I’d be more worried about the high voltage driver.

    The tone of worry and danger seems unwarranted when hackaday often posts about autonomous cars which are far, far more dangerous and deadly.

  4. when i did this with an old philips dental x-ray, i placed a mirror under 45 degrees and shot with my camera the image out of the line of the beam of the x-ray tube. even then i got all kinds of snow on my sensor, so i quit using the damn thing. I’ts just not worth it. I’ve got so much i would like to x-ray, but i only have one body..

    1. If you got snow, the emitter must have been leaking. X-rays never* reflect through mirrors–they either pass through or they don’t.

      *Almost never: certain materials can give you a 1 or 2 degree “grazing” angle, which is how the first NASA X-ray satellites worked.

  5. This technology is well worth mastering safely. Now the maker here can start fascinating things like x-ray spectroscopy which is fantastic for identifying materials. Lots of cool science stuff. Not just X-raying your feet so see if your shoes fit. :-) Little short controlled bursts at chosen targets preferably downward would be practical and quite safe if proper measures are taken. Best to start off super-paranoid and work towards actually doing stuff while keeping the dangers at bay. Bravo!! Think of the recycling potential if you could scan a product and get a specific diffraction pattern based on what the material is. Get AI systems reading the diffraction patterns and we could get an excellent materials recognizer. Lots of cool stuff.

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