Wireless radiation detector

Radioactivity detectors are widely used in society to ensure safe levels of human exposure to potentially dangerous radiation are maintained. Measuring radiation in the atmosphere is also of great interest to researchers as its effects on the lower atmosphere are currently poorly understood.

Researchers at Oxford have successfully produced a radioactivity detector using a PiN diode that is smaller and affordable to produce than the traditionally used Geiger counter. The device is also able to provide energy discrimination of incoming particles. Furthermore, Bluetooth technology allows this device to link to a phone or a computer generating a more convenient way to monitor radioactivity levels. These detectors show promise in environmental radioactivity monitoring.

Revealing radioactivity

Ionising radiation is abundant in the Earth’s atmosphere, originating from both natural and synthetic sources. Radiation detectors, which measure ionising particles such as gamma, X and cosmic rays, are crucial to maintain human safety in settings such as research laboratories and in the environment. Traditionally, Geiger counters are used as radiation detectors; however, are limited by their inability to determine the energy of the radiation present.

Radiation repercussions

Recently, there has been increased interest in the effects of radioactivity on weather and the climate, as little is understood about the effects of energetic particles in the lower atmosphere. Cosmic radiation may have a small effect on the weather, hence monitoring this type of radiation may provide crucial data. Elevated levels of radiation, from cosmic rays or during space weather events can also lead to short-term malfunctions in electronics. This is particularly important in electronic equipment at high altitudes such as satellites and aeroplanes.

There is interest in producing smaller and cheaper radiation detectors as well as improving their measurement capabilities. Such a device could be used to measure other types of high-energy radiation, such as energetic particles from lightning.

Researchers’ revelation

Researchers at the University of Oxford have successfully produced a miniaturised radiation detector, which utilises a PiN diode. An alternative model has also been produced using a scintillator alongside the PiN diode, consequently, this device is more sensitive to higher energy particles.

The device runs at a low voltage (12V) and is able to measure count rates, analogous to a Geiger counter, but is also able to differentiate between the different energies of incoming particles.

Further development is currently underway to utilise this detector on specialist weather balloons for environmental radioactivity measurement.

We believe that the important features of this new model include:

  • Low-cost solution
  • Runs at a lower voltage
  • Provides energy discrimination
  • Is sensitive to high-energy radiation
  • Can output count rate and energy of the measured radiation onto a phone or computer

Commercialisation

Oxford University Innovation is keen to talk to anyone who can assist in the commercialisation of this technology.

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