Detecting radiation with your smartphone

The winners of the CERN EIROforum Prize in the European Union Competition for Young Scientists 2013 (EUCYS), Michał Gumiela and Rafał Tomasz Kozik from Poland, have just spent an exciting week exploring CERN from 1 to 5 September. The students visited several CERN experiments and facilities and had ample time to interact with scientists on how to improve their invention further.


Michał Gumiela (left) and Rafał Tomasz Kozik (right) with their CERN host, Sabrina El Yacoubi (middle) at the ALICE detector.

Michał (21) and Rafał (20) both won a young physicist prize in Poland before submitting their work on “Studies of the applicability of CMOS and CCD sensors for detection of ionising radiation” to the EUCYS competition. “It all started with Fukushima,” recalls Michał. The high school students met in 2011 at a physics workshop, where they started discussing digital photos taken around the Fukushima nuclear plant after the radiation leak. “We noticed bright spots on the photos and we wanted to understand the cause,” adds Rafał.

As it turned out, the research conducted by the young students showed that the cause was ionising radiation that was present in the area at the time. “The next step was working out how to detect it in a simple way with cheap devices,” explains Michał. “We were offered an internship at the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Krakow where we studied the enabling technologies as well as sensors including CMOS and CCD further.” These sensors are commonly used in today’s widespread digital cameras and smartphones. In the following months, “we worked together to develop methods to use these built-in sensors to enable everyone to detect radiation with their existing gadgets,” says Rafał.

The application the Polish students have developed can serve as an alarm against harmful radiation. However, one of the challenges is adapting their method to the variety of sensors used in the different devices. In their project, which the jury awarded a special EIROforum prize, the students have adapted their method to Rafał’s mobile phone and two other tablets.

During their visit to CERN, Michał and Rafał enjoyed the hospitality of the CERN European Projects Office. Their week included trips to, amongst others, ALICE, ATLAS, LHCb, AMS, SM18 and LEIR. When asked “What’s next?” Rafał smiles and says “I don’t know, but something related to control engineering. In SM18, I learnt a lot of interesting things about PLC and SCADA, which I would like to investigate further”. Summarising his week at CERN, Michał ends our conversation with this comment: “CERN is an amazing place; it’s amazing to see something so big that was created by thousands of people and, remarkably, it works!”

by Agnes Szeberenyi