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Government Lab Uses Smartphones To Measure Gamma Ray Exposure 105

KentuckyFC writes "Back in 2008, Slashdot reported that researchers were developing ways of turning cellphones into radiation detectors. Since then a few apps have even appeared that claim to do this. However, convincing evidence that they work as advertised is hard to come by. Now government researchers at Idaho National Labs have created their own app that uses an ordinary smartphone as a gamma ray detector, put it through its paces in the lab and published the results. The pixels in smartphone cameras can detect gamma rays in the same way as they pick up visible light. So when the lens is covered, the image should reveal evidence of gamma ray exposure once other noise has been removed, such as that from heat and current leakage. These guys have tested several types of Android smartphone with a variety of gamma ray sources at various different doses. The researchers say the phones give a reasonable measure of radiation dose, can detect the direction of source (by comparing the measurements from the front and back cameras) and can even measure the energy of the gamma rays by measuring the length of the tracks that appear in the image. While the results do not match the quality of bespoke detectors, that may not matter since in many circumstances cellphones are likely to be the only sensors that are available. That could be useful for emergency services, air travelers wanting to monitor their extra radiation dose on routes over the arctic and people who live in areas with a higher than average background radiation level."
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Government Lab Uses Smartphones To Measure Gamma Ray Exposure

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  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @01:23PM (#45940915)

    Actually most digital cameras are far more sensitive to infrared than to visible light - they actually come equipped standard with infrared blocking filters so that the visible spectrum isn't totally drowned out, and they *still* can usually see the wimpy blinking light on your IR remote. I think they're usually less sensitive to UV though.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @02:02PM (#45941497)

    TFA states that the "may" release the app but there are already a few gamma radiation detectors on the Play Store for Android such as these: [] []
    Basically you cover the lens with black tape to block light but of course gamma radiation can get through. The apps need to be calibrated to your individual phone since random noise in the sensor can give false readings. The apps provide a method to do that.
    As the article states... the best radiation detector is the one you have with you.

  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday January 13, 2014 @02:39PM (#45942123)

    Wikipedia has some good references here:
    "Shielding from gamma rays requires large amounts of mass, in contrast to alpha particles which can be blocked by paper or skin, and beta particles which can be shielded by foil. Gamma rays are better absorbed by materials with high atomic numbers and high density, although neither effect is important compared to the total mass per area in the path of the gamma ray.
    The higher the energy of the gamma rays, the thicker the shielding made from the same shielding material is required. Materials for shielding gamma rays are typically measured by the thickness required to reduce the intensity of the gamma rays by one half (the half value layer or HVL). For example gamma rays that require 1 cm (0.4) of lead to reduce their intensity by 50% will also have their intensity reduced in half by 4.1 cm of granite rock, 6 cm (2½) of concrete, or 9 cm (3½) of packed soil. "
    So, gamma rays can pass through black tape, plastic and glass lenses without much difficulty.

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