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OSU Develops Portable Radiation Detector

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CORVALLIS, Ore. —  Nuclear engineers at Oregon State University have developed a breakthrough radiation detector that is small, portable and inexpensive.

Abi Farsoni, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at OSU says the devices tell what kind of radiation is around those wearing them, how much, and if it’s a health risk, according to findings published in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research.

More than three years ago, a deadly earthquake rumbled through Japan – with a devastating tsunami to follow – killing thousands of people. But residents had another scare: the meltdown and fallout from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

“People living very close to the site were not sure if their place was a safe place,” Farsoni said.

After the spill, Farsoni says he was motivated to create a device that could help residents determine if there was harmful radiation around them.

“We have 104 nuclear power plants here in the United States too,” Farsoni said. “And I think we should be prepared for any similar incident.”

He developed the MiniSpec – an inexpensive spectrometer – a device that measures the energy from radiation to identify the type of radiation around it, the dose, and if it is harmful. The device Farsoni created is a prototype – he hopes to work with a company to commercialize the product within the next year to be available for the general public for purchase. Once produced, he says buyers could put the device in their pocket, or potentially attach it to their clothes with a clip.

Farsoni says the gamma ray spectrometers that researchers currently use to identify the source of radiation costs between $5,000-10,000, which is unaffordable to the general public. The sets are also bulky and heavy.

“Our main goal in designing this device was the price,” Farsoni said about the MiniSpec.

Using new technology, he was able to create the new spectrometers inexpensively, and expects them to be sold at less than $150 a piece.

Farsoni is able to hook the device up to his smart phone or any device with Internet to see the results from the spectrometer.

“They can give you a simple answer – is it safe to be here – or not? Yes or no?”

Farsoni says there is background radiation around us all the time, but usually the dose is so small that it is not harmful.

“There are a lot of misconceptions by many people about radioactivity and natural background radiation, and technology of this type may help address some of those issues,” he said. “Sometimes, there are also real concerns, and the device will be able to identify them. And of some importance to us, we want the technology to be very simple and affordable so anyone can obtain and use it.”

The MiniSpec is a breakthrough device that could ultimately help more people than the eye can see.

“We have to be prepared for any incident like Fukushima,” Farsoni said. “So if you have it at home, you can check if your environment is safe; if the food or drinking water is safe to use.”

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