Hackaday Prize Entry: A Better DIY CT Scanner

If you’re entering something in The Hackaday Prize this year, [Peter Jansen] is a guy you need to watch out for. Last year, he won 4th place with the Open Source Science Tricorder, and this year he’s entering a homebrew MRI machine. Both are incredible examples of what can be built with just enough tools to fit on a workbench, but even these builds don’t cover everything [Peter] has built. A few years ago, [Peter] built a desktop CT scanner. The CT scanner worked, but not very well; the machine takes nine hours to acquire a single slice of a bell pepper. At that rate, any vegetable or fruit would begin to decompose before a full scan could be completed.

This didn’t stop a deluge of emails from radiology professors and biomedical folk from hitting [Peter]’s inbox. There are a lot of people who are waiting for back alley CT scans, but the CT scanner, right now, just isn’t up to the task. The solution is iteration, and in the radiology department of hackaday.io, [Peter] is starting a new project: an improved desktop CT scanner.

The previous version of this CT scanner used a barium check source – the hottest radioisotope source that’s available without a license – and a photodiode detector found in the Radiation Watch to scan small objects. This source is not matched to the detector, there’s surely data buried below the noise floor, but somehow it works.

For this revision of a desktop CT scanner, [Peter] is looking at his options to improve scanning speed. He’s come up with three techniques that should allow him to take faster, higher resolution scans. The first is decreasing the scanning volume: the closer a detector is to the source, the higher the number of counts. The second is multiple detectors, followed up by better detectors than what’s found in the Radiation Watch.

The solution [Peter] came up with still uses the barium check source, but replaces the large photodiode with multiple PIN photodiodes. There will be a dozen or so sensors in the CT scanner, all based on a Maxim app note, and the mechanical design of this CT scanner greatly simplifies the build.

Compared to the Stargate-like confabulation of [Peter]’s first CT scanner, the new one is dead simple, and should be much faster, too. Whether those radiology professors and biomed folk will be heading out to [Dr. Jansen]’s back alley CT scan shop is another question entirely, but it’s still an amazing example of what can be done with a laser cutter and an order from Mouser.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: