Radioactivity has always been a fascinating phenomenon for anyone interested in physics, and as a result we’ve featured many radioactivity-related projects on these pages over the years. More recently however, fears of nuclear disaster have prompted many hackers to look into environmental radiation monitoring. [Malte] was one of those looking to upgrade the radiation monitor on his weather station, but found the options for wireless geiger counters a bit limited.
So he decided to build himself his own Wifi and LoRa compatible environmental radiation monitor. Like most such projects it’s based on the ubiquitous Soviet-made SBM-20 GM tube, although the design also supports the Chinese J305βγ model. In either case, the tube’s operating voltage is generated by a discrete-transistor based oscillator which boosts the board’s 5 V supply to around 400 V with the help of an inductor and a voltage multiplier.
The tube’s output signal is converted into clean digital pulses to be counted by either an ESP32 or a Moteino R6, depending on the choice of wireless protocol. The ESP can make its data available through a web interface using its WiFi interface, while the Moteino can communicate through LoRa and sends out its data using MQTT. The resulting data is a counts-per-minute value which can be converted into an equivalent dose in Sievert using a simple conversion formula.
Those of us who have not been in that position can only imagine the anguish of learning that your teenager has cancer. This happened to [Rob], whose child was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. It’s a condition that can be treated with surgery followed by a course of radioactive iodine to kill any remaining cancer cells. During iodine treatment, the patient is radioactive enough that other people must maintain a distance of 3m from them, and as a learning exercise for both father and teen he created and refined the design of a portable wireless radioactivity monitor.
There are a variety of sensors for radiation monitoring including the well-known Geiger–Müller tube, but he settled on a PIN photodiode based sensor supplied by radiation-watch.org. This sensor is not at its most sensitive at the energy levels emitted by the iodine isotope used in the treatment, but the relatively high intensity of the radiation meant that enough would register for a useful reading to be taken. The sensor board he was mated to an ESP8266 module. [Rob] went through three iterations of the balance of the hardware before settling on a lithium-ion battery and a plastic case.
On the software side, the ESP connects to an MQTT server, from which a CSV file of data is derived. On a computer, the CSV data is collected and plotted to a graph. The data take during treatment clearly shows the reduction in radiation following the isotope’s half-life. The graph isn’t perfect though, there is a gap due to the second prototype’s batteries running flat
From his epilogue it appears that his son has recovered, and we wish them further good health. The details have been published in the hope that other young people facing the same trial might benefit from building their own radiation monitor.
Many of us don’t think too much about radiation levels in our area, until a nuclear disaster hits and questions are raised. Radiation monitoring is an important undertaking, both from a public health perspective and as a way to monitor things like weapon development. So why is it done, how is it done, and what role can concerned citizens play in keeping an eye on things?
Hackers often have broad interests across the sciences, of which nuclear topics are no exception. The Geiger counter remains a popular build, and could be a handy tool to have in a time of rising tensions between nuclear powers. [Leonora Tindall] had tinkered with basic units, but wanted a better idea of actual radiation levels in her area. Thus began the build!
The project began by leveraging the Geiger counter kit from the Mighty Ohm. [Leonora] had built one of these successfully, but wished for a visual readout to supplement the foreboding ticking noises from the device. This was achieved by installing a Metro Mini microcontroller along with a 4-character, 14-segment alphanumeric display. This, along with the cardboard enclosure, makes the build look like a prop from an 80s hacker movie. Very fitting for the Cold War-era technology at work.
By using a pre-built kit and upgrading it with display hardware, [Leonora] now has readings at a glance without having to reinvent the wheel and design her own board from scratch. Of course, if you’re thinking of taking on a more complex build, you might consider a scintillation detector instead.