There are times in one’s life when circumstances drive an intense interest in one specific topic, and we put our energy into devouring all the information we can on the subject. [The Current Source], aka [Derek], seems to be in such a situation these days, and his area of interest is radioactivity and its measurement. So with time to spare on his hands, he has worked up this video review of radioactivity and how Geiger counters work.
Why the interest in radioactivity? Bluntly put, because he is radioactive, at least for the next week. You see, [Derek] was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and one of the post-thyroidectomy therapeutic options to scavenge up any stray thyroid cells is drinking a cocktail of iodine-131, a radioisotope that accumulates in thyroid cells and kills them. Trouble is, this leaves the patient dangerously radioactive, necessitating isolation for a week or more. To pass the time away from family and friends, [Derek] did a teardown on a commercial Geiger counter, the classic Ludlum Model 2 with a pancake probe. The internals of the meter are surprisingly simple, and each stage of the circuit is easily identified. He follows that up with a DIY Geiger counter kit build, which is also very simple — just a high-voltage section made from a 555 timer along with a microcontroller. He tests both instruments using himself as a source; we have to say it’s pretty alarming to hear how hot he still is. Check it out in the video below.
Given the circumstances, we’re amazed that [Derek] is not only keeping his cool but exhibiting a good sense of humor. We wish him well in his recovery, and if doing teardowns like this or projects like this freezer alarm or a no-IC bipolar power supply helps him cope, then we all win.
Continue reading “The Ins and Outs of Geiger Counters, for Personal Reasons”
How quickly would you say yes to being granted the power to control lightning? Ok, since that has hitherto been impossible, what about the lesser power of detecting and tweeting any nearby lightning strikes?
Tingling at the possibility of connecting with lightning’s awesome power in one shape or another, [Hexalyse] combined AMS’s lightning sensor chip with a Raspberry Pi and a whipped up a spot of Python code to tweet the approach of a potential storm. Trusting the chip to correctly calculate strike data, [Hexalyse]’s detector only tweets at five minute intervals — because nobody likes a spambot — but waits for at least five strikes in a given time frame before announcing that a storm’s-a-brewing. Each tweet announces lightning strike energy, distance from the chip, and number of strikes since the last update. If there haven’t been any nearby lightning strikes for an hour, the twitter feed announces the storm has passed.
It just so happened that as [Hexalyse] finished up their project, a thunderstorm bore down on their town of Toulouse, France putting their project to the test — to positive success. Check out the detector’s tweets (in French).
We recently featured another type of lightning detector that auto-deploys a lightning rod once a storm arrives!
One of the driving principles of a lot of the projects we see is simplicity. Whether that’s a specific design goal or a result of having limited parts to work with, it often results in projects that are innovative solutions to problems. As far as simplicity goes, however, the latest project from [153armstrong] takes the cake. The build is able to detect lightning using a single piece of equipment that is almost guaranteed to be within a few feet of anyone reading this article.
The part in question is a simple, unmodified headphone jack. Since lightning is so powerful and produces radio waves in many detectable ranges, it doesn’t take much to detecting a strike within a few kilometers. Besides the headphone jack, a computer with an audio recording program is also required to gather data. (Audio is often used as a stand-in for storing other types of data; in this case, RF information.) [153armstrong] uses a gas torch igniter as a stand-in for a lightning strike, but the RF generated is similar enough to test this proof-of-concept. The video of their tests is after the break.
Audacity is a great tool for processing audio, or for that matter any other data that you happen to be gathering using a sound card. It’s open source and fairly powerful. As far as lightning goes, however, it’s possible to dive far down the rabbit hole. Detecting lightning is one thing, but locating it requires a larger number of weather stations.
Continue reading “Detect Lightning Strikes With Audio Equipment”
The early days of electricity appear to have been a cutthroat time. While academics were busy uncovering the mysteries of electromagnetism, bands of entrepreneurs were waiting to pounce on the pure science and engineer solutions to problems that didn’t even exist yet, but could no doubt turn into profitable ventures. We’ve all heard of the epic battles between Edison and Tesla and Westinghouse, and even with the benefit of more than a century of hindsight it’s hard to tell who did what to whom. But another conflict was brewing at the turn of 19th century, this time between an Indian polymath and an Italian nobleman, and it would determine who got credit for laying the foundations for the key technology of the 20th century – radio.
Continue reading “J.C. Bose and the Invention of Radio”
[Thomas Clauser] had his basement flood last year when a hurricane swept over New England. The problem with flooding or leaking water is that chances are you won’t notice until it’s too late. He decided to protect against this in the future by building his own leaking water detector. It’s a simple device that sits on the floor of his basement and triggers an audio alarm if water begins to cover the floor.
He used an old smoke detector for the build; a nice choice since it’s loud, and designed for long-term battery operation. It also has a button for testing if the detector is working. [Thomas] removed the PCB from the smoke detector case and soldered wires onto the test button contacts. He cut a sponge to squeeze it inside of a PVC pipe connector housing. That sits against the floor, with the wires for the test button contacts placed through the sponge. If water is soaked up by the sponge it completes the circuit and triggers the alarm.
A few other design features really make this a nice setup. He notched out the bottom of the PVC connector so that water can flow freely, and added a switch to one of the probe wires lets him kill the alarm when inspecting the damage.
[Blacklight99] made this cool tool. It is a tester for those radar detectors that people keep in their cars. Though this seems like it would rarely be a tool we would need, it’s an interesting project. Some speed guns that the police use have a “stealth” mode that makes them invisible to some detectors. This tool can tell you if your detector is vulnerable to this. While this really is just a complicated flashing LED, he notes that it could be taken further to be made into a detector that is programmable and not vulnerable to any of the stealth modes.
[Sebastian Tomczak] was borrowing a homeade muon detector from his friend, and managed to hook it up to his computer through an Arduino. The detector itself uses 3 fluorescent tubes to detect radiation. Three separate tubes are used in order to filter out terrestrial radiation; cosmic radiation will fall in-line with the tubes and pass through at least two of them, whereas terrestrial radiation will only hit one. There is some basic circuitry to amplify the signal and then perform the OR operation.
[Tomczak] used an Arduino to take the raw data and feed it into his computer. He then used Max/MSP to analyze the data and filter out background noise, leaving only the cosmic ray data. He didn’t mention what he was going to use the data for, though. Maybe he’ll hook it up to a synthesizer.
Related: Digital Geiger counter