VT Science: Build Your Own Nuke Detector at Home



By Jeff Smith and Gordon Duff

Your Android Phone Can Do Double Duty As a Geiger Counter. So the next time you see a Saudi F-16 drop a 1,000 lb bomb you will know if it is a Nuke or not.

Android: While we’d hope you’d never need it, clever researchers have figured out how to turn the camera on your Android phone into a makeshift Geiger Counter with nothing more than an app and some black tape. HOW TO TURN YOUR CAMERA PHONE INTO A GEIGER COUNTER.

The app works by blocking all the light coming into a phone’s camera sensor with a piece of tape or plastic. Because high energy radiation will cause artifacts on the CMOS camera sensor inside the phone, radiation will be captured as tiny specks of white light. The title picture for this post was taken from a camera phone at the Helmholtz Research Center in Munich being bathed in 10 Sieverts per hour of Gamma radiation from the decay of Cesium-137.

We have to note that blips of ‘bad data’ from a CMOS camera sensor aren’t unusual. These can come from electrical weirdness in the sensor itself or even the heat from the battery. [Rolf]’s app takes a reading of the noise floor and subtracts it from the counter. Radioactive decay resulting in Beta particles such as the Potassium-40 in bananas or the Uranium in granite counter tops don’t really register, although [Rolf] did have some success with Potassium chloride and a long measurement time.

Radioactivity Counter.This is a real working radioactivity counter. You only need a BLACK TAPE to cover the lenses !!Disclaimer: The type of radiation picked up by the camera can be dangerous/detrimental to the user’s health as well as cause damage to the device.Its NOT a JOKE! The App is using the camera sensor to detect radiation, like a Geiger Mueller counter, of course with a smaller area. We tested several mobile phones at the Helmholtz research facility in Munich, using a professional radiation device in the range of 2-10 µGy/h till 1-10 Gy/h (CS137 and CO60). The CMOS sensors can detect primary gamma radiation and some higher beta radiation (depends on the shielding in the mobile phone). Typically not going into saturation as most GM tubes. See FAQ on our homepage for what you can measure and how.
PLEASE SEND US FEEDBACK via EMAIL !! We add new devices in short intervals.Attention: the tape must shield the light completely. Please check with a light source !
On our homepage you find several measurement result for different devices we tested so far. Some are excellent, some not that sensitive. fff_145
Feel free to use our table to assign radiation values to our counter measurements when you have the same device. 
The real values might differ as sensors can change. There we need your help and the help of the manufactures for a future calibration service.
You can use the contact button in the help menu to provide us with feedback and please use it.

Image Insight announced the first free trial release of GammaPix for Android smartphones, an application that loosely measures gamma radiation with the phone’s camera.

The GammaPix gimmick is that it can detect radiation in different everyday situations, such as cosmic radiation while flying in an airplane, or gamma radiation in medical waste. You simply pull up the app, and begin taking a reading. Under normal circumstances, the camera can grab a complete reading in about five minutes.

The application uses technology that analyzes video and still imagery for the signature of gamma rays that have hit the image sensor. The measurements themselves indicate the rate of interactions of gamma ray radiation with the particular camera being used, so different phones will yield different results. Image Insight formed in 2010 with the explicit purpose of developing this app under a $679,000 contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The application is in no way a replacement for a Geiger Counter or Scintillation Counter, and is intended only for use in non-emergency settings where radiation could be present, furthermore the app only provides non-quantitative measurements for observing variations in gamma ray exposure.

Still, it’s a neat concept.

Initially, the app will be available as a free trial download in Google Play on specific Android phones, then an iOS version will be released, and a version for first responders will follow.

Though the app is compatible with phones running Gingerbread and up, it may not work with your device.


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  1. One of my comments below is off by 1000.
    NETC map gives about 0.05 microSeiverts an hour NOT nanoseiverts. The nanoseiverts is an error. But I am reading Mr. Nichols articles and finally found his data and it is correct. Alarming 500-800 counts per minute and higher across the U.S. I still worry that people can be falsely lulled to sleep by personal radiation detectors saying 0.05 microSv an hour for Cs137. When in fact the total radiation of gross neutrons, alpha, gamma and beta all combined could be hundreds or thousands of times higher than the personal meter says. I’m just learning so thank you for the wonderful articles on radiation. I hope we aren’t in an ELE. I hope I never face neutron bombardment.

  2. For personal devices costing 200-600$
    If we take old base line ANNUAL US radiation at 3.3 milli Sv then this is 0.04 micro Sv an HOUR

    Tokyo (on NETC and Twitter) reports 0.05 nano Sv an HOUR

    These devices underestimate true total radiation at least 1000 times too low assuming Tokyo has at least US average. And 10000 to a million times too low assuming Tokyo must have 100-100 times US.

    And the Cell phone app will be less sensitive or less efficient. Quantitative values will be 10000-a million times greater or even more disparity. Fuku outskirts readings on NETC are 1-3000 nanoSv/he which is 8-24 milli Sv annual. So that is more than US typical reported of 3.5 milli Sv annual. Again I claim that value quantitatively is off by a lot if total radiation is desired.

  3. I just ordered a Ludlum 3 with 44-9 pancake GM probe for 1000$. Later I could save up for 3 separate Scintillation probes each specific for beta vs gamma vs alpha and would be costing many thousands to have all 3. A good free iPhone app will log clicks from analog into phone microphone so analog can be done 24 hrs a day.
    This is a serious matter measuring gross alpha or gross beta or gross gamma counts. Our lives may depend on it so we need somebody somewhere to do accurate readings. Is it an agenda to get all of us buying inferior CRV 700 units like in your picture above or cheap (<1000$) pocket counters giving readings of 0.05 microsieverts an hour in Fukushima? Analog at least can't be changed when one links up digitally. The rads in Fukushima must be more than what I typed just now because that is less than normal cosmic. SENSITIVITY and EFFICIENCY are needed to given doses. I won't be pacified by junk science myself. I am a physician and a Christian and radiation is too serious to joke about.

    • iPhone app called Geiger bot. You need a Geiger counter that clicks to use it. I’ll do the process suggested here in the article but it’s hard to believe the efficiency of detection could be very good for inexpensive equipment unless I’m the robot in reactor 1 in Japan and CPM higher than I can count.

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