Giger Counter

Shortly after the movie Prometheus hit theaters, Phil posted this on Twitter:

“If I ever go to an alien planet, I’m bringing a Giger counter. #ThingsILearnedFomSciFIMovies”

…which, of course, made me think, “I need a Giger counter”. And what’s the first thing you do when you want to build something in the style of H. R. Giger? That’s right, go out for some ribs…

So I headed over to a local science shop I frequent. It’s a dark, dusty and foreboding mad scientist’s emporium, hidden in a back alley on the dodgy end of town, and catering to even dodgier clientele.

…or possibly it’s a well-lit (if a bit cluttered) store in a strip mall, somewhere between Space Savers and Outback Steakhouse. But they do have a giant lizard …named Ozzy.

I wandered around for a bit, until the proprietor asked me what I was looking for. I told him I needed a 1/2 scale human skeleton. He paused briefly, walked over to a shelf, picked up an unmarked white box and handed it to me.

It’s that kind of place.
The rib cage and spine looked like they’d make a good base for my H. R. Giger stuff. (Note: H. R. Gigerstuff was by far the creepiest Sid & Marty Krofft show ever. And that’s saying something.)

I figured it’d be nice if the thing contained a Geiger counter, so I picked up this kit from Adafruit. Yes, it’s an actual Geiger counter. It goes “bip” and everything.

I altered it a bit to move the LED to a more convenient spot (the base of the skull).

The case ended up being mostly bits of the skeleton, plus some flexible conduit. A piece of spine turned out to make a nice grip.

It’s pretty much just a bunch of those pieces stuck together, painted dark metallic (I think the color was Carbon Mist), with the Geiger counter crammed inside. The circuit board’s wrapped in black plastic mesh to camouflage it a bit.

Here’s a video of it in action. Unfortunately (or fortunately, to be perfectly honest), there’s not a lot of radioactivity in my house, so this is about 1 minute of me waving the thing around, and it responding by going “bip” occasionally. The spooky lighting and music help a bit.

– No, Phil didn’t make a typo. It’s a pun.
– Yes, it’s pronounced “geeger”. Just go with it.

Steve DeGroof

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

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  1. This is so fantastic that I don’t have words for it. Please carry it around Dragon*Con and make it “bip” at people.

  2. THIS IS THE COOLEST THING I CAN”T BELIEVE YOU DIDN”T TELL ME YOU WERE MAKING THIS!!!! Try running it over an unpeeled banana or your smoke detector. Also, if you have a basement you’ll probably get more clicks down there 🙂

  3. Oh, I intend to. I might even give it to Phil so he’ll be prepared if he’s ever invited on a mysterious expedition to an alien planet 35ly (or possibly only half a billion miles) away. 😀

  4. Lisa, I tried bananas and an Am241 disk from a smoke detector and neither seemed to make that much of a difference. So either they’re not strong enough sources or the Geiger counter doesn’t work very well.

  5. Americium 241 is an alpha source and bananas are very weak radiation sources.

    But I really want a giger-counter now. That’d be so cool to bring out in science class. “And radiation levels can be measured with a geiger-counter like this… No, sorry, that’s my giger-counter.”

  6. Dear Skepchick Network: Please dip into your Big Pharma shill money and give Steve a salary so that he can remain in his underground lair all day making awesome things. Thanks.

  7. Bjornar, if you want to build one, it’s essentially…
    One of these:
    A bunch of this:
    Some of this:
    A couple cans of this:
    A bit of this:
    And one of these:
    …and a bunch of cutting and gluing. You can probably save a bit of cash by skipping the Geiger counter and using a Halloween skeleton instead an anatomy model. Those were the two big-ticket items in the build.

    Quarksparrow, I don’t think Big Pharma pays its shills enough to keep me in the manner to which I’d like to become accustomed. 😀

  8. This is awesome Steve.

    You should buy some Vaseline glass at an antique store. Its glass colored green or yellow with uranium.

    Pieces will set off a geiger counter (and they glow under black light).

  9. Trying to imagine the reaction I’d get if I wandered into an antiques shop waving this thing around. 😀

  10. Ah, it is everything a consumer good should be: beautiful, distinctive, functional.

    I covet this, and what use have I for such a thing? It would just clutter up my closet along with my Ripley Signature Flame Thrower and ExoSKEL™ Payloader suit leaving me no room whatsover for droid storage. So I really have to keep a handle on these impulse purchases (like that old impulse engine housing I picked up at a tag sale recently…).

    What Donna said.

    It’s brilliant.

  11. While Am241 is an alpha emitter all alpha emitters are also gamma emitters. Am241 is actually used quite commonly for it’s low energy gamma radiation, particularly in bottling. Low energy means less penetrating power so it gives greater contrast when you are looking at something less dense like a typical liquid (less dense then say steel) it also allows you to use a high activity source and block it pretty much completely with only a thin shield. A lot of bottling plants are switching to sonic devices these days because radiation is scary but there are still a lot of bottles and cans that have been checked using the gamma radiation from Am241.

    I don’t know why you aren’t getting a reading from the Am241 source, the orientation of the tube matters it should be perpendicular to the incoming radiation and as close as you can get it (a few centimetres is what you generally want to aim for when dealing with a low activity source).

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