You Built What?!: A Portable X-Ray Machine | Popular Science

In his free time during high school, Adam Munich built himself a machine to see inside other machines
By Gregory Mone Posted 05.21.2012 at 10:30 am 15 Comments

Adam Munich And His X-Ray Machine Luke Copping

Late one night two years ago, Adam Munich found himself talking with two new acquaintances in a chatroom. One, a Pakistani guy, was complaining about rolling electricity blackouts in his country. The other had broken his leg in a motocross accident in Mexico and said his local hospital couldn’t find a working x-ray machine. The two situations fused in Munich’s mind; he wondered if a cheap, reliable, battery-powered x-ray machine existed—something that could be used in remote areas and function without being plugged in during blackouts. After discovering that the answer was no, he spent two years building one himself out of Nixie tubes, old art suitcases, chainsaw oil, and electronics from across the globe. It was an incredibly ambitious project for anyone, let alone a 15-year-old.

Munich started by reading online about the science of Coolidge tubes, the essential radiation-emitting core of most commercial machines, and eventually found one for sale from a manufacturer in China. “The rest was puzzle-solving,” Munich says. “For something like this, there’s no guide.”

Inside Look: An x-ray of a thumb drive taken with Adam Munich’s machine  Luke Copping

He split the machine into two connected pieces: a control box that houses the electronics and a second case containing the x-ray tube and the high-voltage components that drive it. Batteries alone wouldn’t provide enough power. He needed a voltage multiplier, so he borrowed a design originally used in particle accelerators. When alternating current is applied, it flows into a charge-storing capacitor at its peak and then rushes through a charge-relaying diode when the polarity of the current reverses. This second burst of charge combines with the power stored in the capacitor, doubling the voltage. Using money he earned as a freelance Web designer, Munich bought enough capacitors and ultrafast diodes on eBay to link together four such setups. The voltage increases with each one until it reaches the 75,000 volts required to spark a decent beam of x-rays.

Munich, now 18, has used the machine to x-ray some household items, including a pen and a computer hard drive. Theoretically, he says, it could be used for hands or limbs. Now he is focused on getting the cost under $200 and making the device sturdy enough to help his friends from the late-night chat. But the current version is sure to help with a more immediate concern—impressing college admissions offices.

DIY XRay Machine 2:  Luke Copping


Time 2 years
Cost $700

See how Munich’s x-ray machine works on the next page.

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