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The Palmtop Helps Find Radioactive Hazards

The Palmtop Helps Find Radioactive Hazards

The RM-60, a small pocket sized Geiger counter connects to the HP 100LX to allow you to collect and analyze information about radiation in your environment.

By Robert Roney

The evening news has made us aware of the health problems associated with radon gas levels in our homes. I was surprised to learn recently that we may need to be aware of other sources of low-level radioactive contamination.

Located in the "breadbasket" of the former Soviet Union is a nearly-deserted city named Chernobyl. It is, of course, the site of the world's worst nuclear reactor accident (so far). This accident contaminated some of the most productive agricultural land in the world. The land still produces food, which is evenly distributed throughout the countries that make up the former Soviet Union so that no one area receives all the contaminated food.

Low levels of radioactive contamination have been reported in canned fish from Seattle and Asia, and crackers and cookies from Europe. Nor is the problem isolated to agriculture or radon gas. Nuclear materials are used in power generation, manufacturing, and the field of health care. Almost every doctor's office has an X ray machine. Most hospitals have a "Department of Nuclear Medicine." Though the potential for an accidental release of radioactive material is small, precautions are understandable.

HP 100LX users can now connect their Palmtop to the RM-60, microroentgen radiation monitor and discretely take readings of their borscht in Moscow, exotic canned fish sent by a client, a factory they're visiting, or a hospital laboratory in which they are working.

RM-60 Radiation Monitor

Aware Electronics' RM-60 is a small, inexpensive, Geiger counter a third the size of the HP 100LX. It connects to the parallel or serial ports of any PC, including the 100LX. It comes with cable and two connectors for a PC serial port (9-pin and 25-pin), and easy to install data collection software. You need to supply the 100LX serial cable (from the F1021A 100LX Connectivity Pack or F1015A PC Connectivity Cable) and 100LX modem adapter (from the F1023A Connect/Adapter Kit) to complete the connection. (The old 95LX cables and modem adapters will not work. A custom cable for the 100LX should be available from Aware Electronics by the time you read this.)

Since it's easy to install, the first thing we (Palmtop Paper editors Robert Roney & Richard Hall) did was to check out the radiation levels of everything and everyone at Thaddeus Computing. The alarm started going off, and everyone was thoroughly scared! Then we decided to read the manual and talk with Aware technical support. We reset the time interval to 60 seconds from 10 seconds. Then the alarm stopped going off, radon and glow-in-the-dark monitors seemed less threatening and we began to actually learn something about our radiant, unseen environment.

The manual has a good introduction to radiation measurement and different types of radiation (Alpha, Beta, and Gamma). It tells you the basics for detecting Radon gas in the air and water. Also there is an interesting list of common sources of radiation, which include gas lantern mantles, smoke detectors, glow-in-the-dark watches, static eliminators, gold jewelry, glazing compounds, gems, antique colorings for glass and pottery.

To install the software just copy the files AW-SRAD.EXE and AWMRAD.COM (the main program and the TSR) to your 100LX. The software only runs in DOS, so you have to go into System Manager and press (MENU) Application Terminate All... then run AW_SRAD from the DOS prompt. The radiation monitoring software is easy to use, and comes with pull down menus and help keys. Start the monitoring process by selecting Capture. Use Display to view current microroentgens per hour, in 10 second or 1 minute intervals. You can also save this data to a file.

RM60 Display on 100LX : Graphic

 The program calculates the average roentgens per hour for the interval set. One minute intervals are more useful for environmental reading. The 10 second intervals are used for detecting very low radiation levels or materials with a very short life cycle. Also, to get an accurate reading of an environment, like your home, you need to record the readings over a period of time, say half an hour.

You can connect the Palmtop to a remote monitor via modem and phone line. You can connect up to 10 individual collectors to a single PC to monitor different locations at once. The collected data can be exported to an ASCII file and imported by spreadsheets, Quatro Pro, Lotus, etc.

There is an optional graphics program, AW-GRAPH ($45), to help analyze the data that you collect. You create a graph in either a straight, interpolated or regression format. The program will also read a standard text file so you could even use it to graph battery life or your mutual fund investments.

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