A citizen's dosimeter, and it fits in your wallet

July 1, 2011, US Department of Homeland Security - Science and Technology
Adam Hutter, Director of NUSTL, presents Cecilia Murtagh (center) and Gladys Klemic with plaques commemorating DHS's first patent. Not pictured: co-investigator Paul Bailey, now at the University of Maryland. Credit: Jenny May

No matter how many plastic cards currently crowd your wallet, one day you may wish to make room for one more. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)'s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has developed a miniaturized version of a dosimeter, a portable device used for measuring exposure to ionizing radiation, which can provide life-saving early detection in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident or dirty bomb.

Dubbed the Citizen's Dosimeter, this high-tech plastic card would be as convenient and affordable as a subway card, with the capability to measure the amount of radiation on a person or in a given area.

The National Urban Security Technologies Laboratory (or NUSTL, pronounced new STEEL) located in New York City and managed by DHS S&T, has been awarded a patent that covers the development of radiation dosimetry technologies – DHS's first patent.

Currently, personal radiation dosimeter badges are worn in nuclear plants, but a plant dosimeter cannot be read on the spot; it must be sent to a processing lab to determine an individual's radiation dose. While a final prototype has not yet been built, a workable blueprint for a wallet-sized card that can detect radiation in real time is now in place.

"We were inspired by the Metro cards we use every day to get around Manhattan, and envisioned a dosimeter with that level of convenience," says Gladys Klemic, a NUSTL physicist who managed the project from Illinois. Klemic believes a dosimeter in this form could benefit both emergency responders and the general public.

Klemic and her team at NUSTL set out to create a dosimeter that would meet American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements for personal radiation dosimeter badges, and incorporate commercially available components to decrease the size and lower the price tag.

NUSTL began by using radiation-sensitive material from Landauer, Inc., a commercial dosimetry provider in Illinois, testing materials of varying thicknesses and combinations to determine how thin they could make the card while still achieving the targeted performance.

After testing nearly a half a dozen materials, the NUSTL scientists determined that using the chemical element tantalum allowed them to obtain accurate readings with minimal thickness. Combining this element in a unique double-layer, stainless steel filter helped to reduce false positives. It was this unique design that led to the patent award.

The next step is to develop a card reader to reveal the radiation dose measured by the Citizen's Dosimeter. In the event of a nuclear incident, first responders equipped with a card reader would immediately be able to measure radiation exposure for anyone carrying the Citizen's Dosimeter. While it will be years before a card and reader can be prototyped, tested, certified and wallet-ready, NUSTL has lined up a team to support the effort, including:

  • Engineers at StorCard, a California-based group that has previously developed a prototype credit-card floppy disk and reader
  • Nomadics, an Oklahoma engineering firm
  • Radiation detection experts at Landauer and Oklahoma State University
The Citizen's Dosimeter represents a technological breakthrough and the next generation in radiation detection. It also demonstrates how public-private partnerships can work to produce life-saving solutions – in this case, protecting the nation from resulting from an act of terrorism or natural disaster.

Explore further: PTB testing method for finger ring dosemeters has proven its effectiveness

Related Stories

NTT to Launch 'iD' Credit Card Brand for Mobile Payments

November 8, 2005

NTT DoCoMo announced today its new iD™ credit card brand for card issuers, which will enable DoCoMo customers to make credit card payments with the "Osaifu-Keitai" mobile phone equipped with wallet functions. The brand ...

Detecting dirty bomb material with ESA gamma-ray technology

October 30, 2008

Thanks to ESA and UK technology transfer support, a British company has developed a device based on the gamma-ray detection equipment used in ESA’s Integral astronomy satellite to detect and identify the radioactive material ...

You can't teach old materials new tricks

February 16, 2008

A more sensitive, more selective and easily deployable radiation detection material is necessary to meet complex 21st century challenges. In the AAAS symposium “Radiation Detectors for Global Security: The Need for Science-Driven ...

Physicists use plastics to detect radiation

November 21, 2007

In applications ranging from hospital X-ray machines to instruments for astronomy, the standard way to measure the dose of radiation is to use a detector made from an inorganic semiconductor, such as silicon. It is not easy, ...

News from a space phantom

October 20, 2005

A phantom, which was outside the International Space Station for a year and a half, is now inside with the ISS crew. However this is no ghost story but a serious set of scientific experiments to monitor radiation levels ...

Recommended for you

Permanent, wireless self-charging system using NIR band

October 8, 2018

As wearable devices are emerging, there are numerous studies on wireless charging systems. Here, a KAIST research team has developed a permanent, wireless self-charging platform for low-power wearable electronics by converting ...

Facebook launches AI video-calling device 'Portal'

October 8, 2018

Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is currently dominated by Amazon and ...

Artificial enzymes convert solar energy into hydrogen gas

October 4, 2018

In a new scientific article, researchers at Uppsala University describe how, using a completely new method, they have synthesised an artificial enzyme that functions in the metabolism of living cells. These enzymes can utilize ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.