See the color of gamma radiation

Map out gamma ray energies to the visible spectrum. Every source gets a color fingerprint

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Visible light is just a very tiny slice of the electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes can perceive. We can’t see gamma rays, but we can map a slice of the gamma spectrum onto the visible spectrum such that we can see a representation of the gamma rays in color.

It uses the Pomelo gamma spectroscopy module, an Arduino and an RGB LED strip.

I've always been interested in finding intuitive ways of looking at data, like the excellent projects by Jan and Charles

I'm building a tool to map out a section of the electromagnetic spectrum that we cannot see, gamma rays between ~10 keV and ~3 MeV, to visible light such that we can get a more intuitive feel for the gamma radiation.

The core concept of this project is to measure gamma rays and assign a visible color to the energy of each photon that is measured. There is a fundamental problem with this approach because of the different way gamma rays interact with matter. A gamma photon can scatter and deposit only part of its energy into the detector, so we'll not see "pure" colors

This tool clearly shows the difference between a gamma source with a low energy spectrum, like Am-241, and one with higher energies, like Th-232. If these two sources give the same counts per minute reading in a Geiger counter, the higher energy source is significantly more dangerous.

Hardware-wise it uses the Pomelo gamma spectroscopy module, an Arduino compatible board, and an addressable LED strip for displaying the output.

Pomelo measures photon energies and hands them over to the Arduino which assigns a color for each measurement.

The gamma detector is much more efficient for low energies than for higher ones, so to compensate somewhat for that colors decay faster towards red and slower towards violet. Here are two demos of the entire system in action with two radioactive sources having different color fingerprints:

  • Better lights and video description

    mihai.cuciuc06/05/2024 at 05:11 0 comments

    On a recent trip to the hardware store I stumbled across a cheap RGB lamp with a diffuser plastic that did a very good job. I got it and immediately gutted it to replace the innards with 4 strips of addressable LEDs.

    Donor lamp case with new LEDs inside. Original PCB below

    The updated look does not disappoint

    Gamma spectrum of Th-232 shown in color!

    Below is a video description of the project in its new form.

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David Matthew Mooney wrote 06/06/2024 at 14:25 point

great project! Now you have to make it directional! Notice that a PIN diode detector is much thinner than it is wide…

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mihai.cuciuc wrote 06/07/2024 at 04:58 point

Hi, David! I'm not sure just one diode will help with this, but having a directional detector is an awesome idea! You can check out Compton Cameras for finding out the direction of gamma rays, or Muth's project #Cosmic Pixels for tracking cosmic muons

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David Matthew Mooney wrote 06/07/2024 at 13:36 point

Thank you. However, there are situations where directionality is the last thing you want if it comes with blind spots.

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Dan Julio wrote 06/05/2024 at 14:14 point

Brilliant!  In more ways than one.  What a useful teaching tool this visualization is.  Nice job.

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mihai.cuciuc wrote 06/06/2024 at 05:27 point

Thanks for your feedback! I did indeed have a ton of fun making it, and with other projects popping up like this one by Muth, I'm excited to see what comes next

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