On-line Radiation Display for Vienna Natural History Museum

The respected, beautiful and very classical Museum of Natural History in Vienna is setting up the new stand for on-line visualization of natural radiation.

The dinosaurs, meteorites, 29000-year-old Venus, and dozens of other objects are displayed in one of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna.

The radiation stand is designed for Hall IV with an exhibition of minerals and gemstones.

Display of radioactive particles

The display visualizes online every single ionizing particle traveling through the sensor. Visitors can easily observe the typical shapes of tracks of all main particle types occurring in the normal environment.

Alpha particles create large roundish blobs, Beta rays are shown as narrow wavy lines like “worms”, Gamma rays do small dots or blobs and Cosmic muons are observed as long straight tracks. All of them are shown on-line as it is happening in the exhibition hall of the museum. People easily observe that radioactivity is everywhere: in the air, they breathe, the water they drink food they eat, and, yes, in their own body. It is present in ancient minerals as well as produced by the life-giving sun.


The mixture of all recently detected particles is dynamically shown on the screen. The traces of old particles fade out while new ones appear. The most recent detection for each particle type is shown zoomed. The most interesting particle tracks can be saved to log files for later analysis. The essential information is given in simple descriptions with explanatory graphics (customizable HTML content).

The count of particles in each of the four categories is shown in the history chart for the last several days. We see that especially amount of alpha particles fluctuates significantly in my living room.

RadView software and device

The device is based on a miniature particle tracking detector MiniPIX TPX3 developed by ADVACAM. It can be connected to a miniature PC, laptop, or tablet. The software can run under all major operating systems (Win-10, Mac OS, Linux).

The photo taken during the first tests in the museum during normal opening hours is shown here.

The detector was placed close to a collection of Uranium containing minerals showing greatly increased gamma activity.

The other test performed in my living room illustrates that the device can be connected to almost any screen (Inexpensive Intel Compute Stick with Win-10 was used here to run the software).

The mystique patterns: Become particle physicist

The mystique patterns drawn by particles are fascinating. Whenever you see a new one you try to understand: What is that and how it appeared?

We observe many exotic phenomena: branching muon tracks with delta electrons, abstract flowers formed by a sequence of alpha and beta decays of radon daughter products, or very rare tracks of energetic protons.

Everything happens just in front of your eyes. You don’t need any nuclear reactor nor synchrotron accelerator to observe all the main principles of nuclear physics.

Play time

All the boring physics turns into wonderful exploration. There are hundreds of questions you can explore with this device:

Is there a difference between day and night radiation? Does the radiation change when somebody enters the room? What happens if I would place a piece of granite close to the detector? And what about ash? Or air filter? Is there some preference in the directions of muons? And beta rays? Does the neodymium magnet affect the particles? Can I find some new particles in mountains? Or in mines? Or onboard of the plane? What about lightning during the storm? Can I use natural radiation to make an image of something?

The device can be used with great advantage during courses of physics for direct visualization of principles described in textbooks. Students or teachers can perform real nuclear experiments on their tables.

When and where you can see it?

Visitors of Natural History Museum should be able to see the new radiation monitor and particle display in Hall-IV in April if the restrictions caused by coronavirus would allow it.

Credit and acknowledgment to Medipix collaboration in CERN for development of Timepix3 chip, ADVACAM R&D team for the development of MiniPIX TPX3 detector, Daniel Turecek for main software development, Vaclav Lepic for specialized “Radiation View” module, Jonas Jakubek for graphical design.

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