3D Printed Radiation Shields Get Put To The Test

Don’t get too excited, a 3D printed radiation shield won’t keep you from getting irradiated during WWIII. But until the Doomsday Clock starts clanging its midnight bell, you can use one to improve the accuracy of your homebrew weather monitoring station by keeping the sun from heating up your temperature sensor. But how much does it help, and what material should you load up in your extruder to make one? Those questions, and more, are the topic of a fascinating whitepaper included in the upcoming volume of HardwareX.

Design and Implementation of 3-D Printed Radiation Shields for Environmental Sensors not only tests how effective these low-cost shields are when compared to an uncovered sensor, but addresses specific concerns in regards to leaving 3D printed parts out in the elements. Readers who’ve squirted out a few rolls worth of the stuff will know that common polylactic acid (PLA) filament, while easy to work with and affordable, isn’t known for its resilience. In fact, one of the advertised properties of the renewable plastic is that it’s biodegradable (theoretically, at least), so leaving it outside for any length of time sounds like it’s bound to go poorly.

PLA’s mechanical strength dropped rapidly.

To make a long story short, it does. While the team demonstrated that the PLA printed radiation shield absolutely helped preserve the accuracy of the temperature and humidity sensors mounted inside of it, the structure itself began to deform rapidly from UV exposure. Further tests determined that the mechanical strength of the PLA showed a notable reduction in as little as 30 days, and a sharp decline after 90 days.

Luckily, there was more than one plastic horse in the race. In addition to the PLA printed shield, the team also tested a version printed in acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) which fared far better. There was no visible deformation of the shield, and after 90 days, the reduction in mechanical strength was negligible. It even performed a bit better when it came to shielding the temperature sensor, which the team believes may be due to the material’s optical transmission properties.

So there you have it: a 3D printed radiation shield will absolutely improve the accuracy of your weather sensors, but if you want it to last outside, PLA just isn’t going to cut it. On the other hand, you could also save yourself a whole lot of time by just using a stack of plant saucers. Whatever works.

Thanks to [tahnok] for the tip.