By Steve Frandzel
Sophia Uchiyama and her Expo team have designed a small, inexpensive radiation detector which will enable anyone with a smart phone to “photograph” radiation and determine in a flash if they’re being exposed to high levels of radiation.
“We wanted something that’s easy to understand for people who are not trained in nuclear science, and which literally presents a picture of the radiation around them,” said Uchiyama, who will graduate next year with a degree in radiation physics after finishing coursework for a math minor.
The detector could be used by first responders, for example, to determine if an area they’re about to enter is safe or contaminated with dangerously high levels radiation.
In its final form, the device will resemble a tiny pair of headphones that clip over the cellphone’s camera lens. If the scintillation crystal inside detects radiation, it emits pulses of light, whose intensity is dependent on the strength of the incoming radiation. All you have to do is snap a picture, and the cellphone’s camera creates a photo of the light flashes emitted by the scintillator. The resulting image resembles a night sky filled with stars, the brightness of which corresponds to radiation levels. Because that method might require interpretation, the team instead envisions a straightforward color-coded warning that flashes on the phone’s screen and leaves no doubt about whether or not the surroundings are safe. The device would cost far less than conventional radiation detectors.
Team member Nick Wehmann, who is receiving a degree in radiation health physics, added that during a reactor accident in the Idaho desert in the 60s, first responders rushed into a containment building after a fire alarm, only to find out too late that they’d been exposed to an intense radiation field. “Our device would give first responders important information whenever there’s a source of high radiation,” he said. “They could just pull out their phone and see if it’s safe to proceed or if they need to wait.”
Wehmann plans to advance the project for his master’s thesis when he begins his advanced degree program at Oregon State next fall. “I not only want to take photos of radiation, I also want to time stamp them and add GPS coordinates so the information can be uploaded to a server and networked to map out larger area of high radiation,” he said.
Other team members
Bashayr Almusali, Radiation Health Physics
Justin Gillilan, Radiation Health Physics