Raspberry Pi Pico Detects Gamma Rays in Open Spectroscopy Project

Raspberry Pi Pico Detects Gamma Rays in Open Spectroscopy Project

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There are many useful things you can do with a Raspberry Pi Pico (opens in new tab), as our listing of the best Raspberry Pi Projects (opens in new tab) underlines. However, here’s one we admit we’d never thought of: detecting radiation. Physicist Matthias Rosezky, AKA Nuclear Phoenix (opens in new tab), whose work has also been covered by Hackaday (opens in new tab), has written up a detailed account of building a DIY gamma-ray spectrometer in IEEE Spectrum (opens in new tab).

The device acts a little like a Geiger counter but is more sensitive and can identify the exact combination of isotopes that makes the detector click. Rosezky described the Pico as the ‘natural choice’ for a microcontroller when creating this project. He purchased a small sodium iodine crystal from eBay for $40 and combined it with a silicon photomultiplier. All this was connected to a carrier board, into which the Pi Pico was inserted. A gamma ray produces an electron with proportional energy in the crystal, which excites the atoms as it moves through the structure. This causes photons – light – to be emitted, and by counting the photons, you can know the energy of the gamma ray.

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