Smartphone and Tablet-Based Sensing of Environmental Radioactivity: Mobile Low-Cost Measurements for Monitoring, Citizen Science, and Educational Purposes

Sensors (Basel). 2019 Oct 1;19(19):4264. doi: 10.3390/s19194264.


Sensors for environmental radioactivity based on two novel setups using photodiodes, on the one hand, and an advanced tablet-based hybrid pixel detector, on the other hand, are presented. Measurements of four kinds of terrestrial and every-day radiation sources are carried out: Airborne radon, a mineral containing traces of uranium, edible potassium salt, and an old radium watch. These measurements permit comparisons between different types of ambient radioactive sources and enable environmental monitoring. Available data comprise discrimination between α - and β - -particles in an energy range of 33 keV to 8 MeV and under ambient air conditions. The diode-based sensor is particularly useful in portable applications since it is small and sturdy with little power consumption. It can be directly connected to a smartphone via the headset socket. For its development, the low-cost silicon positive-intrinsic-negative (PIN) diodes BPX61 and BPW34 have been characterised with capacitance versus voltage (C-V) curves. Physical detection limits for ionising radiation are discussed based on obtained depletion layer width: ( 50 ± 8 ) μ m at 8 V. The mobile and low-cost character of these sensors, as alternatives to Geiger counters or other advanced equipment, allows for a widespread use by individuals and citizen science groups for environmental and health protection purposes, or in educational settings. Source code and hardware design files are released under open source licenses with this publication.

Keywords: citizen science; formal and informal learning; hybrid pixel detector; learning tool; low-cost; natural radioactivity; open educational resource; radon; silicon sensor; terrestrial radiation.