Science club students at Campolindo High School, CA are part of a Berkeley Lab (Dept. of Energy) initiative to measure background radiation in their area. It’s part of a larger international project with University of California, Berkeley called DoseNet. The university pairs with schools and provides monitoring units that are based on the open source Raspberry Pi and a dosimeter from Radiation-Watch. You may recall Radiation-Watch was the Japanese organization that sprang into action during the Fukashima Daiichi nuclear disaster with sensor units for cell phones to collect data.
Students from the university not only educate youth about the importance of background readings, but they also encourage further hacking like adding other sensors and connecting to other networks. Looking at air quality and weather could be interesting for comparisons and they want to get students interested in science and engineering. The exciting part is checking out the map feature on DoseNet. For instance, you can see that there is an extra-high level in Iran and you may think that is scary, however, it’s actually a naturally occurring radium that is found in the rock there. So, understanding these baseline levels helps to show what is normal for a specific area.
The future goals of DoseNet include expanding to more schools, adding more features like a weatherproof sensor box and including a social network so students can engage with other citizen scientists around the world. Looks like they are off to a strong start, and your school can sign up to partner with them. If you are a teacher working on bringing STEM into your classroom, you may want to give our Geiger Counter Kit a look. It’s an open source hardware kit using ATTiny complete with a Geiger Muller tube. So, you can have a blinking and beeping device that will go off in the presence of bananas. Seriously, this kit is great for educational purposes, but please don’t expect to enter a nuclear reactor with it. Have fun building something that will inform our youth about an important topic, and definitely let us know about other citizen science projects you are working on.