Probably The Simplest Radiation Detector You Already Own

Over the years we’ve featured quite a few radiatioactivity detectors, which usually include a Geiger-Muller tube, or perhaps a large-area photodiode. But in the event of radiation exposure from a nuclear attack, how does the man in the street gauge the exposure without owning a dedicated instrument? This was a question of note at the height of the Cold War, and it’s one that [Dr. Marshall Brucer] answered in a 1962 paper entitled “When Do You Leave A Fallout Shelter“. The full paper is behind a paywall but the part we’re interested in is on the freely available first page.

Dr. Brucer‘s detector is simplicity itself, and it relies on the erosion of a static electric charge by radiation. Should you rub a plastic comb in your hair it will accumulate enough charge to pick up a small piece of paper, and under normal background radiation the charge will ebb away such that it will drop the piece of paper after about 15 seconds. His calculation is that once the field reaches around 10 roentgens per hour it will be enough to erase the charge and drop the paper immediately. There’s a comtemporary newspaper report (Page 7, just to the left of the large advertisment) which tells the reader that since the exposure limit is 100 roentgens (one sievert), this test failing indicates that they have nine hours to create a better shelter. For obvious reasons we can’t test this at the Hackaday bench, but those of us who remember the days when such topics were a real concern will be searching for a handy comb anyway.

Thanks [Victor Matthew] for the tip.

A Trio Of Photodiodes Make A Radiation Detector

The instinctive reaction when measuring nuclear radiation is to think of a Geiger counter, as the low-pressure gas tube detectors have entered our popular culture through the Cold War. A G-M tube is not the only game in town though, and even the humble photodiode can be pressed into service. [Robert] gives us a good example, with a self-contained radiation detector head that uses a trio of BPW34s to do the job.

At its heart is a transimpedance amplifier, a not-often-seen op-amp configuration that serves as a very high gain current-to-voltage converter. This produces a spike for every radiation event detected by the diodes, which is fed to a comparator to produce a logic pulse. The diodes require a significant bias voltage, for which he’s used 48 V from a stack of 12 V photographic dry cells rather than a boost converter or other potentially noisy power supply. Such a sensitive high-gain device needs to be appropriately shielded, so the whole circuit is contained in a diecast box with a foil window to allow radiation to reach the diodes.

This isn’t the first BPW34-based radiation detector we’ve seen, so perhaps before looking for a Cold War era relic for our radiation experiments we should be looking in a semiconductor catalogue instead.

Towards A 3D-Printed Neutrino Detector

Additive manufacturing techniques like fused deposition modeling, aka 3D printing, are often used for rapid prototyping. Another advantage is that it can create shapes that are too complex to be made with traditional manufacturing like CNC milling. Now, 3D printing has even found its way into particle physics as an international collaboration led by a group from CERN is developing a new plastic scintillator production technique that involves additive manufacturing.

A scintillator is a fluorescent material that can be used for particle detection through the flashes of light created by ionizing radiation. Plastic scintillators can be made by adding luminophores to a transparent polymer such as polystyrene and are usually produced by conventional techniques like injection molding.

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DIY Scintillation Detector Is Mighty Sensitive

Geiger counters are a popular hacker project, and may yet prove useful if and when the nuclear apocalypse comes to pass. They’re not the only technology out there for detecting radiation however. Scintillation detectors are an alternative method of getting the job done, and [Alex Lungu] has built one of his own.

Scintillation detectors have several benefits over the more common Geiger-Muller counter. They work by employing crystals which emit light, or scintillate, in the presence of ionizing radiation. This light is then passed to a photomultiplier tube, which emits a cascade of electrons in response. This signal represents the level of radioactivity detected. They can be much more sensitive to small amounts of radiation, and are more sensitive to gamma radiation than Geiger-Muller tubes. However, they’re typically considered harder to use and more expensive to build.

[Alex]’s build uses a 2-inch sodium iodide scintillator, in combination with a cheap photomultiplier tube he scored at a flea market for a song. [Jim Williams]’s High Voltage, Low Noise power supply is used to run the tube, and it’s all wrapped up in a tidy 3D printed enclosure. Output is via BNC connectors on the rear of the device.

Testing shows that the design works, and is significantly more sensitive than [Alex]’s Geiger-Muller counter, as expected. If you’re interested in measuring small amounts of radiation accurately, this could be the build for you. We’ve seen this technology used to do gamma ray spectroscopy too.

A Very Different ‘Hot Or Not’ Application For Your Phone

Radioactivity stirs up a lot of anxiety, partially because ionizing radiation is undetectable by any of the senses we were born with. Anytime radiation makes the news, there is a surge of people worried about their exposure levels and a lack of quick and accurate answers. Doctors are flooded with calls, detection devices become scarce, and fraudsters swoop in to make a quick buck. Recognizing the need for a better way, researchers are devising methods to measure cumulative exposure experienced by commodity surface mount resistors.

Cumulative exposure is typically tracked by wearing a dosimeter a.k.a. “radiation badge”. It is standard operating procedure for people working with nuclear material to wear them. But in the aftermath of what researchers euphemistically call “a nuclear event” there will be an urgent need to determine exposure for a large number of people who were not wearing dosimeters. Fortunately, many people today do wear personal electronics full of components made with high purity ingredients to tightly controlled tolerances. The resistor is the simplest and most common part, and we can hack a dosimeter with them.

Lab experiments established that SMD resistors will reveal their history of radiation exposure under high heat. Not to the accuracy of established dosimetry techniques, but more than good enough to differentiate people who need immediate medical attention from those who need to be monitored and, hopefully, reassure people in neither of those categories. Today’s technique is a destructive test as it requires removing resistors from the device and heating them well above their maximum temperature, but research is still ongoing in this field of knowledge we hope we’ll never need.

If you prefer to read about SMD resistor hacks with less doomsday, we recently covered their use as a 3D printer’s Z-axis touch sensor. Those who want to stay on the topic can review detection hacks like using a single diode as a Geiger counter and the IoT dosimeter submitted for the 2017 Hackaday Prize. Or we can choose to focus on the bright side of radioactivity with the good things made possible by controlled artificial radioactivity, pioneered by Irène Joliot-Curie.

[via Science News]

Best Product Entry: Open Source Internet Of Dosimeter

[Radu Motisan] Has entered a cool project into the Best Product portion of this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s called an Open Source IoT Dosimeter. It has a Geiger tube for detecting radiation levels along with Internet connectivity and a host of other goodies.

Dubbed the KIT1, this IoT dosimeter can be used as a portable radiation detector with its Nokia 5110 LCD as an output or a monitoring station with Ethernet. With its inbuilt speaker, it alerts users to areas with excessive radiation. KIT1 is a fully functioning system with no need for a computer to get readouts, making it very handy and easy to use. It also has room for expansion for extra sensors allowing a fully customized system. The project includes all the Gerbers and a BOM so you can send it off to a PCB fab lab of your choice, solder on a few components, and have a fully functioning IoT Dosimeter. you don’t even need the LCD or the Ethernet; you can choose which output you prefer from the two and just use that allowing for some penny-pinching.

This is a great project and who doesn’t need an IOT Dosimeter these days?

THP Hacker Bio: Radu.motisan


Here’s a great example of thinking big while keeping it simple. [Radu Motisan‘s] putting together a global radiation monitoring network as his entry in The Hackaday Prize.

The simplicity comes in the silver box pictured above. This houses the Geiger tube which measures radiation levels. The box does three things: hangs on a wall somewhere, plugs into Ethernet and power, and reports measurements so that the data can be combined with info from all other functioning units.

After seeing the idea we wanted to know more about [Radu]. His answers to our slate of queries are found below.

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