Sunday, September 16, 2012

The $3 Geiger Muller tube to Arduino Interface

This is a "Revision 1.0". Rev 2.0 coming soon(longer tube life, better filtering..)! sdf

While complete Geiger Muller shields for the Arduino are available on the market, I tend to find them:
  • Unnecessarily Bulky
  • Too complexified for what they do.
Other awesome open source gm-counter projects do exist, however, they do not fit my (rather simplistic) requirements - just getting a TTL pulse for each ionization event.  

In this post, I will document how we can easily drive a GM tube with less than $3 worth of parts and an 
Arduino. It's not exactly the optimal circuit for GM tube driving, but it gets the job done in a very compact form factor.

In a nutshell, driving a GM tube typically consists of 2 distinct parts. 
  1. We need to provide the tube with a high voltage source for it to operate. 
  2. We need to detect each ionization event and convert it to a format that can be used by the micro controller. Interestingly, the circuit described above does exactly that. 

Prototyping a 400V boost converter

The first transistor (T1) takes a PWM signal(~1.9kHz) from the Arduino and together with L1, D1 and C1, acts like a boost converter to produce 400V. This voltage is then fed to the center pin of the GM tube(GMTUBE_1). 

The second pin of the GM tube, GMTUBE_2, goes to the pulse detector part of the circuit. Basically, each ionization event causes the 'Pulse_out' pin to to make a 'high-low-high' transition. This triggers an interrupt on the Arduino, which registers the event as one count. 

Typically, you'll want to count the ionization events over a certain period of time and report the results in counts per minute (cpm). You'll need to consult the datasheet of your tube to get the ┬ÁRem/h conversion factor. 

The PWM_IN pin is connected to pin 5 on 8MHz Arduinos or pin 9 on 16MHz Arduinos. 
The PULSE_OUT pin is connected to pin 2 of the Arduino.

The test code can be easily edited to suit your needs. By default, it will report the "CPM" sampled over 10 seconds over serial. 

Good to know:
  • The arduino sketch included below assumes that the AVR is running at 8Mhz. If you are running at 16Mhz,  edit the code as instructed in the source file. (you'll get an incompatible PWM frequency if you don't, as the PWM frequency depends on the microcontroller's clock speed) 
  • When the PWM is at 0%, the circuit consumes a few micro amps. It consumes around 20mA during operation. 
  • The GM tube I used is a Russian, cold-war era, Si-29BG. Rugged, compact and sensitive enough. 

(Here's a video of the circuit in action - Thanks Johan! )

- M.