Solar Power For Chernobyl’s Second Generation of Electricity

When featuring cool hacks repurposing one thing for something else, we prefer to focus on what we could get our hands on and replicate for ourselves. Not this one, though, as nobody else has the misfortune of being responsible for 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of radioactive contaminated land like the government of Ukraine. Trying to make the best of what they have, they’ve just launched a pilot program working to put up solar power farms inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

This is sure to invite some jokes in the comments section, but the idea has merit. Thirty years of weather has eroded the worst aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. That area is no longer immediately lethal and people have been making short visits. Spanning from safety inspectors, to scientists, to curious adventurers with questionable judgement making television shows. Supposedly, by following rules on what not to do, it’s possible to keep radiation exposure of a short visit down to the level experienced by frequent fliers. But that’s still too much radiation for long-term stay. That means no homes, office parks, or factories. No agriculture either, as plants and animals grown in the area should not be eaten.

So what’s left? That’s what Ukraine has been struggling with, as it tried to figure out something positive to offset the headaches of monitoring the area.

Well, next to the defunct power plant is the electric distribution infrastructure it used to feed into, and photovoltaic power generation requires little human oversight. Some maintenance will be required, but hopefully someone has worked out how to keep maintenance workers’ cumulative exposure to a minimum. And if this idea pans out, clean renewable energy would start flowing from the site of one of the worst ecological disasters of our era. That makes it a worthwhile hack on a grand scale.

[via Gizmodo]

A Vacuum Tube and Barbecue Lighter X-Ray Generator

A certain subset of readers will remember a time when common knowledge held that sitting too close to the TV put you in mortal peril. We were warned to stay at least six feet back to avoid the X-rays supposedly pouring forth from the screen. Nobody but our moms believed it, so there we sat, transfixed and mere inches from the Radiation King, working on our tans as we caught up on the latest cartoons. We all grew up mostly OK, so it must have been a hoax.

Or was it? It turns out that getting X-rays from vacuum tubes is possible, at least if this barbecue lighter turned X-ray machine is legit. [GH] built it after playing with some 6J1 rectifier tubes and a 20-kV power supply yanked from an old TV, specifically to generate X-rays. It turned out that applying current between the filament and the plate made a Geiger counter click, so to simplify the build, the big power supply was replaced with the piezoelectric guts from a lighter. That worked too, but not for long — the tube was acting as a capacitor, storing up charge each time the trigger on the lighter was pulled, eventually discharging through and destroying the crystal. A high-voltage diode from a microwave oven in series with the crystal as a snubber fixed the problem, and now X-rays are as easy as lighting a grill.

We have to say we’re a wee bit skeptical here, and would love to see a video of a test. But the principle is sound, and if it works it’d be a great way to test all those homebrew Geiger counters we’ve featured, like this tiny battery-powered one, or this one based on the venerable 555 timer chip.

Harvesting Energy from the Earth with Quantum Tunneling

More energy hits the earth in sunlight every day than humanity could use in about 16,000 years or so, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to tap into other sources of energy too. One source that shows promise is geothermal, but these methods have been hindered by large startup costs and other engineering challenges. A new way to tap into this energy source has been found however, which relies on capturing the infrared radiation that the Earth continuously gives off rather than digging large holes and using heat exchangers.

This energy is the thermal radiation that virtually everything gives off in some form or another. The challenge in harvesting this energy is that since the energy is in the infrared range, exceptionally tiny antennas are needed which will resonate at that frequency. It isn’t just fancy antennas, either; a new type of diode had to be manufactured which uses quantum tunneling to convert the energy into DC electricity.

While the scientists involved in this new concept point out that this is just a prototype at this point, it shows promise and could be a game-changer since it would allow clean energy to be harvested whenever needed, and wouldn’t rely on the prevailing weather. While many clean-energy-promising projects often seem like pipe dreams, we can’t say it’s the most unlikely candidate for future widespread adoption we’ve ever seen.

The Physics of Healing: Radiation Therapy

Few days are worse than a day when you hear the words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of death all attend the moment when you learn the news, and nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your body has betrayed you. It can be difficult to know there’s something growing inside you that shouldn’t be there, and the urge to get it out can be overwhelming.

Sometimes there are surgical options, other times not. But eradicating the tumor is not always the job of a surgeon. Up to 60% of cancer patients will be candidates for some sort of radiation therapy, often in concert with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be confusing to some people — after all, doesn’t radiation cause cancer? But modern radiation therapy is a remarkably precise process that can selectively kill tumor cells while leaving normal tissue unharmed, and the machines we’ve built to accomplish the job are fascinating tools that combine biology and engineering to help people deal with a dreaded diagnosis.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: An Open Radiation Detector

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Carlos] is pushing the boundaries of what can be built with PCBs. He’s designed a very low-cost radiation detector that leverages pick and place machines, off-the-shelf components, and very simple electronics. It’s a novel ion chamber design, and if you ever needed a low-cost, easily manufacturable radiation detector, this is the project you want.

Instead of a Geiger tube or a spark detectors, this radiation detector uses an ionization chamber to detect radiation. This project was inspired by the work of [Charles Wenzel] and [Alan Yates], and the implementation is actually pretty simple. A metal can — or some other type of enclosure — is electrified, and a single wire is stuck right into the middle of the can. When alpha and beta particles enter the can, air molecules are ionized, and attracted to either the can or the wire by a difference in voltage. A tiny bit of current flows between the can and the wire, which can be detected if you have a sufficiently sensitive circuit.

The basic idea is well-publicised and well-understood. What [Carlos] is doing with this project is making an ionization chamber easily manufacturable. He’s doing this entirely with standard PCBs and solder instead of paint cans, RF connectors, and deadbugged transistors of the earlier experiments. The resulting PCB actually looks like something that wasn’t put together in a garage (even though it probably was), and is an amazing entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Global Thermonuclear War: Tweeted

[Andreas Spiess] did a video earlier this year about fallout shelters. So it makes sense now he’s interested in having a Geiger counter connected to the network. He married a prefabricated counter with an ESP32. If it were just that simple, it wouldn’t be very remarkable, but [Andreas] also reverse-engineered the schematic for the counter and discusses the theory of operation, too. You can see the full video, below.

We often think we don’t need a network-connected soldering iron or toaster. However, if you have a radiological event, getting a cell phone alert might actually be useful. Of course, if that event was the start of World War III, you probably aren’t going to get the warning, but a reactor gas release or something similar would probably make this worth the $50.

Continue reading “Global Thermonuclear War: Tweeted”

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?