While being in the weapons distribution biz may seem a bit dodgy, an enterprising team in San Francisco is looking to prove their device is out to protect and serve (and save a lot of money). The Department of Homeland Security is looking to add safeguards to American ports by installing a series of radiation scanners designed to detect hidden nukes (and, we hope, dirty bombs) on incoming shipments. The problem is the $1.15 billion this project is supposed to cost, not to mention the five years it'll take to get it installed, so we're still pretty much exposed for awhile. Not one to take a (potential) threat lying down, physicist / Sandia Lab weapons subcontractor Stanley Glaros is manning a team which has already built a "boat-mounted radiation detection device from off-the-shelf components." The homebrew rad sniffer gives a visual alarm via a "sodium iodide crystal" that turns blue when danger is near (remember Frodo's sword?), but the mechanics behind the lighthearted signifier is no laughing matter. An Ortec Digibase photo-multiplier picks up signals over the air, which are collected into dynodes, and then run through a multichannel analyzer to identify radiological signatures. Regardless of the means, this nuke detector has been running "successfully" for eight months, and coming in at a cool $12,000 apiece, we're all for getting the job done on the cheap (and showing up the DHS in the process).

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DIY nuke detector patrolling San Francisco Bay