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I've had this wacky idea to turn my Raspberry Pi into an autonomous Geiger counter that would log the decay rate at various high-radiation sites such as Chernobyl Exclusion Zone or the surroundings of various power plants.

I would like to know if Raspberry Pi is resistant to ionizing radiation and if not, what are the dangers of using it in such environments/how would I protect it?

  • Please define "high radiation" further. 1uSv/h? 1mSv/h? 1Sv/h? Gammas? Neutrons? Remember, unless there's been an accidental release, you won't pick up anything above background outside the gates of an operating power plant. – Peter Loron Jul 16 '12 at 6:35
  • Have you seen this? solarsystem.nasa.gov/docs/1_RHESE.pdf - and if so, do you think a Rpi based on Si tech could survive the environment? – SDsolar Nov 6 '17 at 7:55
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You should be able to protect your raspberry pi form alpha and beta radiation with a simple aluminium case, which might not even be necessary. The question about gamma radiation is: To which intensity of gamma radiation do you want to expose your raspberry to? I'm sure at very high intensities it will harm the raspberry. On the other hand at low intensities it won't have any effect at all. But if you are holding the raspberry in your hand while it is exposed to high intensity radiation you shouldn't worry about your raspberry.

Edit: some proofs:

Alpha radiation are helium cores, which means it are very big compared to other types of radioactive radiation. This is the main reason why it can not travel trough matter very far(40 micrometers into the human skin).

For beta radiation it is pretty similar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_particle#Interaction_with_other_matter

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Can_electronic_devices_withstand_gamma_radiation

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    Good effort answering, but I think this answer needs references to be viable. – Jivings Jul 13 '12 at 23:53
  • You are right. I added some links. – Stein Jul 14 '12 at 0:14
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Since it's not using radiation hardened ICs like they use in space probes, the Pi wouldn't be very resistant.

While I'm no expert, I think the biggest risk to the Pi would be that a bit in memory would be unexpectedly flipped by a stray particle, leading to anything from corrupted data to a program crash, or even the Pi freezing completely and requiring a power cycle.

The solution to this would depend on how reliable you want the Pi to be. If you'll be in the area then it might be enough to keep an eye on it, and switch it off and back on by hand if it has locked up.

If you want to leave it for long periods of time, you'll have to invent some kind of watchdog. A program that you run to monitor your data collecting program would be a good start. If it notices that the data collecting program has crashed, it can restart it. Then you just have to consider what happens if the monitoring program crashes.

Perhaps a second Pi, communicating via their serial ports. If one Pi stops responding (as it could if the monitoring program crashes), the other Pi would momentarily cut its power, forcing it to reboot and reload all the programs.

In this case, as long as one Pi is working, it can recover the other one. If you're unlucky enough to have both crash at the same time, you'll wish you had a third one in the loop, and so on.

All in all, it could be easier to just house the Pi in a very thick lead box. At least you (presumably) won't have to pay for all that weight to be launched into space!

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    Actually, there are a number of satellites on orbit now that were built with off the shelf automotive grade ICs. They are working just fine. You need to have ECC memory and have the proper watchdogs in place, etc. – Peter Loron Jul 16 '12 at 6:32
  • @PeterLoron: Yes, a good watchdog/redundancy system is far more reliable and often cheaper than trying to make a single hardened system. – Malvineous Jul 16 '12 at 12:39
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The only way to get to a real answer is to read relevant docs, like working on a PhD paper.

Here is one place to start:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/docs/1_RHESE.pdf

Here is another which is much more specific:

https://nepp.nasa.gov/workshops/eeesmallmissions/talks/11%20-%20THUR/1430%20-%202014-561-%20Violette-Final-Pres-EEE-TN17486%20v2.pdf

This would not be a "my-first-project" idea.

I would suggest you connect with the CubeSat folks here: https://nepp.nasa.gov/workshops/eeesmallmissions/talks/11%20-%20THUR/1350%20-%20CubesatMicroprocessor_V1.pdf

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