Modular Low-Cost Radiation Detector for Teaching Labs

Quality education

Our goal is to make hands-on learning experience in nuclear and particle physics more accessible to teachers and students at a lower cost. Traditional equipment used for teaching experimental Physics labs (Geiger-Müller counters, gamma spectrometers) has a high cost-of-entry, and are usually limited to one system for the entire classroom.

Silicon PIN Diodes are a great low-cost alternative to the traditional radiation detectors, being capable to perform many Physics experiments involving low energy X-Rays, Alpha and Beta radiation. Students and teachers can study and identify the unstable isotopes in natural sources of radiation (e.g., by studying the Alpha radiation energy spectrum of rocks), determine the half-life of a radioactive source, measure the absorption coefficients of different materials using an artificial source of Beta radiation, or even perform a basic X-Ray fluorescence experiment with an appropriate radioactive source.

Most of the designs available so far have fixed-gain amplifiers, conditioning the detector to a single Si PIN Diode model. This results a tight limitation when considering the wide variation in the availability of non-general-purpose electronic components in the world. Also, most designs use the microphone input of a computer or smartphone for the data acquisition. This not only imposes the requirement of having a headphone input connection (that are nowadays becoming rarer), but also limits the use of the teaching experience to few users at a time.

To attempt at a solution to both of these issues, our Webfest project comprises of two parts: a data-analysis web-app, and a modular and inexpensive hardware detector.

The acquisition system of the detector will have modular pre-amplifiers and amplifiers, adapting to use most Si PIN diodes available in the market. Students and teachers will be able to download the recorded data in real-time by connecting using Wi-Fi to a low-cost Arduino-like platform. The detector will also have logging capability, being able to perform long-lifetimes measurements for hours without the need to be monitored or connected to another device.

The web-app will allow students and teachers to plot, fit and analyze the recorded data from any computer or smartphone, with step-by-step guides and tutorials for the construction and operation of the detector. An electron-based locally hosted version will also be provided.


Goals of the project
  • Build and test a first prototype of the detector and acquisition system. We will compare the performance of different amplification setups and acquisition system configurations.
  • Design and develop the data analysis web-app: we would like to have the basic plotting and curve-fitting code working by the end of the weekend.
  • Write the tutorials and the documentation for building the device, and performing some simple physics experiments.
Skills being sought

Knowledge of electrical engineering