May 28, 2024
Researchers are developing radiation meters that can save lives in the future
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Researchers are developing radiation meters that can save lives in the future

Smart minds at MIT have discovered a way to make our world a little safer thanks to iconic pixel shapes.  (Symbol image, source: Unsplash - Tom Tang)
Smart minds at MIT have discovered a way to make our world a little safer thanks to iconic pixel shapes.  (Symbol image, source: Unsplash - Tom Tang)

Smart minds at MIT have discovered a way to make our world a little safer thanks to iconic pixel shapes. (Symbol image, source: Unsplash – Tom Tang)

Most people will be familiar with the classic game Tetris with its characteristic pixel building blocks. Now the game has even inspired science. With the help of Tetris shapes and one AI They can now localize gamma radiation on a smaller scale.

That’s why the topic is important: When dealing with radioactive material such as monitoring nuclear power plants, measuring devices are needed that protect us humans. In accidents like Fukushima, you have to quickly and precisely locate sources of danger. The problem:

  • Previous precise detectors are very large (stationary) and expensive
  • Small detectors such as Geiger counters are often imprecise and often lead emergency services too close to radiation

That is new: The scientists have one Calculation basis for the development of very simple, streamlined versions of radiation sensor arrays that can accurately determine the direction of a distributed radiation source.

In detail: MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) reported on the scientists’ study in a statement. The researchers developed a radiation detector that is supposed to outperform previous devices:

  • This should be more mobile without losing precision
  • Goal: Cheap and small system for radiation mapping
  • Inspiration: The MIT researchers cited the familiar square pixel shapes of Tetris as the source of their idea.

Worth seeing: For those of you who don’t know Tetris, feel free to check out this Twitter post. In January 2024, a 13-year-old broke the world record and the highest level ever achieved: 157:

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Tetris as a savior in an emergency

Why Tetris of all things? This requires a little digression. To detect radiation, detectors generally require semiconductor materials such as cadmium-zinc-telluride.

Thats how it works: The radiation penetrates the material and the device can detect it – but the direction is still uncertain. In order to find out as accurately as possible where the radiation comes from, the device needs a detector grid made up of several so-called pixels (i.e. individual detectors):

  • For existing devices: 100 pixels in a 10 x 10 array
  • An algorithm detects radiation arriving at different speeds on the different pixels
  • After calculation, the direction can be interpreted

Disadvantage: Typical detector arrays are large (10 x 10) and expensive, according to the MIT release.

A fascinating discovery: The scientists found that detectors with 4 pixels (i.e. 2×2) in the Tetromino shape sufficient to achieve the accuracy of large and expensive devices.

Tetrominos: These are the classic Tetris figures, each consisting of 4 squares of the same size and bordering each other on their sides.

The result: The researchers found that all shapes (e.g. square, S-, J- or T-shaped) form the S shape was able to determine the direction of the radiation source with an accuracy of 1 degree. One of the authors, MIT professor Mingda Li, says in the communication:

This approach was literally inspired by Tetris.

Worth seeing: Apple TV made a film about the story behind Tetris. Here you can watch a trailer about the background of the cult game:

Tetris: Apple TV highlights the true story behind the cult game in the new trailer
Tetris: Apple TV highlights the true story behind the cult game in the new trailer


Start video


3:27


Tetris: Apple TV highlights the true story behind the cult game in the new trailer

Brilliant thanks to AI: The key to this stripped-down arrangement of pixels lies in the computer-aided reconstruction the angle of incidence of the rays. In order to determine this as precisely as possible, here is one that helps artificial intelligence (AI).

Wouldn’t the old detectors be enough?

In contrast to existing detectors, the Tetris shape offers several advantages:

  • Smaller detector means lower development costs
  • Fewer detector elements made of cadmium-zinc-telluride = lower unit costs
  • Small means more mobile application – of great importance in the event of a disaster
  • NEW: Instead of a single radiation source, the device can detect multiple sources at the same time

Radiation mapping is of utmost importance to the nuclear industry as it can help quickly locate radiation sources and ensure everyone’s safety.

Source: Study co-author Benoit Forget, MIT professor of nuclear engineering

Further area of ​​application: The device doesn’t just seem to be able to precisely detect radioactive radiation. As co-author Lin-Wen Hu, a senior scientist at the MIT Nuclear Reactor Lab, writes in the MIT article:

They are not limited to specific wavelengths, but can also be used for neutrons or even other forms of light, such as ultraviolet light.

Future outlook: A field test conducted by MIT has already been successfully completed. In their study, the researchers assume that their mobile device will soon be used in the field of radiation detection.

Nick Mann, a scientist in the Defense Systems Division at Idaho National Laboratory, says:

This work is critical to U.S. emergency medical services and the ever-increasing threat of a radiological incident or accident.

Who would have thought that our research today would be inspired by the classic game of the 90s and would probably make our current world a little safer – thanks to small, square pixels in the shape of Tetris.

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