Can cell phones detect radiation?

Although the smartphone is not as accurate as a conventional detector, it is useful enough to detect radiation before radiation reaches dangerous levels. It can also be used for personal dose evaluations and as an alarm for the presence of high levels of radiation. As the producer of one of these applications (GammaPix, available for Android and iOS, if you'll excuse the plug), allow me to intervene here. Yes, smartphones and other CMOS and CCD cameras can detect radiation.

While the cameras are less sensitive than Geiger-Muller counters, specialized solid-state detectors and scintillators, they are sensitive enough for quite a few applications. The end result is that smartphones are surprisingly useful as gamma radiation detectors (the camera body is likely to stop alpha and beta radiation). CMOS devices are small silicon chips used in cameras to detect visible light, but they can also detect the higher wavelengths of gamma rays and x-rays. These results show that the devices can accurately determine the dose rate a person is exposed to and that the phone is sensitive enough to detect radiation at levels that are significant in a radiological event.

They concluded that phones have the processing power to detect gamma radiation with their built-in cameras and measure levels on the phone. This setting contributes to generating sometimes large background noise against which it is necessary to detect the radiation signal. In theory, electronic cameras in mobile phones should be able to detect gamma rays in the same way as they detect photons of visible light. The radiation detection application uses the phone to record the number of times it detects an interaction and that number becomes the dose received by the phone.

These cameras detect light when incoming photons hit electrons inside a pixel, creating a charge that an electronic circuit can detect. And Cogliati and company are not the first to create an application that uses smartphones to detect radiation in this way. Of course it won't be as sensitive as a normal detector, but it's definitely enough to detect radiation before it reaches deadly levels and is useful enough as a warning system, he says. For example, as a first line of detection for emergency services during an incident involving radiation.

Scientists tested its radiation detection application on four smartphones and concluded that it works well enough to be a useful alert system for first responders.

Isaac Delpozo
Isaac Delpozo

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