Finding a Major Gamma-Ray Burst

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William Lucas, presenting his findings at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. William’s cousin Paul Sample, who worked with him on the project, is on the left.

William Lucas, presenting his findings at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. William’s cousin Paul Sample, who worked with him on the project, is on the left.

If you aren't already aware of this, here is the story of William Lucas, a remarkable young citizen scientist who started working on one problem, only to be pulled aside into another that led to a significant discovery. Here's the main story, via

The story is this: On March 11, 2011 there occurred the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami off Japan, leading to the release of radioactive materials at Fukushima, the largest nuclear problem since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Monitoring radiation levels around the globe was an imperative, and part of this monitoring took place on Radiation Network, an Internet site that displays radiation levels anywhere in the USA at any particular time. William Lucas is one of the monitors who use geiger counters to take ambient radiation levels, uploading their data automatically in real time using a software package called GeigerGraph.

William’s mother, Diana Neville Lucas, told the audience that her son had had a fascination with geiger counters for years, and he soon talked his parents into supplying him with a geiger counter of the kind used by geologists, one that can track a wide variety of radiation. An active member of Radiation Network, William was interested to see background radiation levels begin to rise during March as fallout from Fukushima moved into the global circulation pattern.

Then, on March 28, there came a sudden spike in the readings. On a calm Monday morning as William was setting out to go to school, levels climbed steadily for an hour far beyond even the enhanced levels caused by Fukushima. The results were automatically reported to the Radiation Network by William’s equipment, and soon his mother received a call from the Huntsville Fire Department saying there was a radiation problem at her house. It was only the beginning. First the Fire Department, then HazMat teams, even a SWAT team from local law enforcement arrived. Last to appear were representatives from the U.S. Air Force.

What exactly was going on at William’s house? After a thorough investigation, the idea that the Lucas family was engaged in some sort of illicit activities involving radioactive materials was disposed of, and in any case, the spike William’s equipment had recorded began to recede. But William was now on the case. Armed with graphs and a satellite view of his home in Huntsville, he described his year-long search for the answer. Google turned out to be the key, although he was sure that finding the answer could not be so simple as merely inserting a date into a search engine. But the method worked.

The rest of the post on this story is well worth a read.

Thanks to James Matsuzaki for bringing this item to our attention.

This entry was posted in Amateur Science, Astronomy, Computer Science, Instrumentation, Measurement, Observation, Sensors, Space. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Finding a Major Gamma-Ray Burst

  1. Jim Hannon says:

    Another interesting bit about this is that it appears that the various authorities were paying attention to this amateur built and operated radiation network.

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