Posts Tagged geiger counter

DIY :: Geiger Counter, making your own graphs

I’ve got a few questions about the geiger graph plots and how to make them. Here’s a short explanation for those without extensive computer background. Personally I prefer using RRDTOOLS to plot any data graphs, but the installation under Windows might be a bit too difficult for the average windows user. Anyway, if you plan to user RRDTOOLS, here’s the download link, and don’t forget you’ll need to install CYGWIN as well. Japanese users might appreciate someone already had translated the manual.

For everybody else, I think the easiest way is to use Excel/Chart or OpenOffice to create pretty pictures in no time.

First, you have to launch your favourite terminal application and get some data from the (USB-)serial port and copy it with (Ctrl/C) or any other available technique. This is the data you’re going to make a graph from.

Open Excel or any other spreadsheet software and paste the data into it. Don’t forget to set “separators” to spaces or the data won’t get separated into the different columns.

In the column just before the data, enter two consecutive time values (13:30 and 13:31, for example), select them and drag black square with the mouse to fill the whole column with the time values.

Finally you may select the time and data columns together and use Chart function to draw a pretty char of your data. There are plenty of settings to adjust and make it look just the way you like it.

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DIY :: Geiger Counter, high speed readings


This is new, totally reworked board which can accomodate any tube, from SI-3BG through SI-37/39G upto SI-1G and even SBM-20, though the last one is a bit too large and leaves tips hanging off the board. The tube on the picture is SI-39G. High voltage generator is now controlled from the microprocessor, instead of fixed setting as on previous boards and also there’s a noisy buzzer, which ‘ticks’ just like the original geiger counter.

New software has changed a lot, now includes voltage controller, buzzer support and fast screen update. The data over USB is still sent once a minute, but the LCD display is now updated every 4 seconds (2-3 seconds were also possible, but seemed to be overkill) with the data of the last minute. Instead of fixed 1 minute intervals, this version uses “sliding 1 minute window” to calculate the value. There’s no need anymore to wait for full 1 minute to see readings go up after introduction of some radiation source, the change is obvious and imminent. Though, on the down side, this fast pace could be a bit disconcerting to some users.

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DIY :: Geiger counter, new tube — more fun

Recently I’ve got a few SI-1G tubes, so naturally I’ve built a new board to accomodate this tube, which is about three times as big as SI-3BG. Well, the schematics is almost the same, capacitors went up a grade and basically only the board layout had changed a little.

This tube has almost everything I need for a household radiation measurement post — high sensitivity, low required voltage and very good response even to the smallest amounts of radiation.

I have brought home a piece of granite (which has about 0.2uSv/h natural background radiation level) and put it next to the SI-1G around 13PM on Monday. As I said before, granite does emit mostly alpha and tube has been rated for gamma only, so I did not expect much.

But, almost immediately I have noticed a +4CPM spike which is still continuing since the rock stays near the tube until now. I have not seen this good response even from the Chinese-made dosimeter which costs several times as much. I’m off to bed and wonder if the high level of secondary gamma emission will wear off around tube by tomorrow morning (I hope not =)

ps. Ah, and thorium mantle makes it really scream at whopping 255-280CPM, which converts to something in 2-3uSv/h range — scary!

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DIY :: Geiger counter, more tests


It took quite a while to find the relatively safe radiation source. Thorium mantle from camping supply store is usually sold and used for camping gas lamps, but does emit some alpha radiation. Alpha is relatively safe, because it can hardly penetrate a sheet of paper or a plastic, so as long as I don’t eat or inhale it I should be fine.

Actually, the usual dosimeters cannot detect alpha, but can detect secondary gamma and beta emissions which happens when alpha strikes something. Therefore, I did not expect any precise measurement, but it was quite reassuring to get the numbers pretty close to the cheap Chinese dosimeter I’ve borrowed from a friend of mine.

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DIY :: Geiger counter, now with LCD display

Well, last week has shown the total lack of any radiation around my home. I have got pretty stable reading for a few days, which moved a little bit higher and lower, but mostly consisted of random background-level noise. The noise (~0.2 clicks per second), which should be expected from this kind of geiger tube at their respective age.

While this kind of picture looks quite dull and boring, I’m kind of cowardly reluctant of ordering any kind of radioactive materials to my home, so I’ve decided to take another approach. I’ve heard the granite stones are supposed to have 0.3-0.5uSv/hour levels, so probably tomorrow would be a good time to visit a stone sculpture factory nearby.

And for that purpose, here comes another board, this time without any USB connection, but equipped with a small LCD screen, so I can attach a pair of batteries and use it to see the results while away from home. Also I’ve got a cheap (relatively) Chinese dosimeter, so there’s a hope I can calibrate the output of my boards and don’t rely anymore on thumb-sucking approach when calculating CPM-to-uSv/h conversion rates.

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DIY :: Geiger counter with USB connection, part II


Here’s the finished board connected to my computer. It works surprisingly well, reading about 20CPM on average — it might be cosmic rays or anything, because I’m too far from Fukushima and don’t really believe anything can be brought over here by wind. The power consumption from the USB bus is less than 10mA, which makes it safe to connect to any USB port, even to a laptop/notebook with a small and weak battery.

But even with this low power consumption, the naked board does not play quite well with bare hands — it still has enough voltage (about 400v) inside and is always ready to zap the finger. Still, the discharge current is very low — about 10uA, so it’s just a bit more annoying than static electricity discharge, like the one you get while getting off the sweater.


And here’s a fresh plot of today’s data. I have no idea what happened between 17:00 and 20:00, maybe my neighbours were microwaving the sausage or we had a solar flare, because it does not look like radiation at all. The radiation usually builds up pretty fast and then slowly decays over time, not the opposite, as seen on the picture. I shall check tomorrow’s graph to see if this phenomena will repeat itself again tomorrow.

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DIY :: Geiger counter with USB connection


The latest events in Japan are more or less related to the results of large earthquake on March, 11th and the radiation outbreak from the damaged units on Fukushima nuclear plant. I’m not equipped or willing to participate in the recovery efforts, but still can provide some help by building and sharing DIY Geiger counters, so people can put their minds at ease.

The design is not very original, first I saw the SparkFun Geiger counter (sold out for a few month already), then I have visited Techlib where I’ve learned a few things here and there about feeding the GM tubes with a proper voltage, and finally I’ve added a few pieces by myself.

The original prototype board was quite messy, but yesterday the first batch of PCBs has arrived and finally I could put all the pieces together.


The core part of the design is the Russian-made Geiger tube SI-3BG, which is not very sensitive, but still can provide good readings if left for a while (30sec-1min interval). The manual said the working voltage is 380-460V, which results in about 15-20 clicks per minute in the calm conditions without any radiation sources around.

The electronics design is quite stable and provides the stabilised high voltage about 400V with the power supply changing from 4V to 9V. The correct output voltage can be selected with the proper collection of Zener diodes and may range from 300V to 500V easily, or maybe even higher with the different transformer and diode/capacitor values.

The tubes I’ve got are from military arsenal, stored and kept in a cold dark place, so most of them work without a single problem. They are sensitive to gamma/beta radiation, well, mostly to the gamma, since beta cannot penetrate very far through the buildings and furnuture. But still, I think these tubes, while difficult to calibrate for a precise measurements, are quite adequate for my purpose — collect click data on the computer and see how it changes with the weather (the wind, and, especially, the rain).


Once in a while the particle or gamma ray enters the tube, and starts the discharge which can be seen as vertical streak on the oscilloscope or the impulse on the microprocessor input. Impulses are counted for a while and then periodically are sent to the computer over an USB connection. Currently I’m just watching the output and thinking about making a small application to build pretty graphs about changes in the background radiation levels around the place where I live.

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