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DIY PIC18 MCA Module for Gamma Spectroscopy 1024 Channels 10bit ADC w/SD logs

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Gamma Viewer 1.00 - DIY PIC18 MCA Kit for Gamma Spectroscopy

The module is assembled miniature Multi-Channel Analyzer (MCA) board based on PIC18 microcontroller. It allows to view and collect gamma spectum instantly without a computer and safe spectra on micro SD card. The MCA uses internal 10bit ADC of the microcontroller. 

The board has analog circuit that translate PMT pulses into signal that 10bit ADC can sample in better way. The spectrum is displayed on 128x64 LCD and stored on micro SD card for further analyzing with BecqMonitor2011 software. 

Technical specifications:

  • Application: Amateur Gamma Ray Spectroscopy Project

  • ADC: 10bit 1024 channels PIC18

  • Energy Range: 10keV - 1700keV

  • Linear / Logarithmic Scale Display

  • CPS (counts per seconds) Counter for optimal measurement control

  • Calibration Engineering Menu

  • micro SD card socket

  • Power Supply Voltage: 5V-12V DC

  • Display: 128x64 LCD 2.8" with Backlight

  • Require Input Signal Amplitude: 40mV-3000mV

  • Require Input Pulse Duration with exponential fall: 50uS-75uS

  • Require Input Pulse Raise time: 2uS-3uS

  • Recommended count rate for spectra < 1000 CPS

  • Module size: 71mm x 55mm x 20mm

  • Shipping Weight: 150gr

  • UPC Number: 634154871195

  • SKU: RH-M-MCA-18

DIY PIC18 MCA Kit for Gamma Spectroscopy

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The module is recommeded for bundle purchase with our Amplifier Divider PCB Kit and Negative Polarity HV Module.
Add the items to your shopping cart to get MCA Bundle Purchase Discount!

The recommended PMT pulse amplifier has compatible with MCA input signal requirements. However, you can use your own pulse preamplifier if the signal amplitude and timing meets the requirements: amplitude 40mV-3300mV, total pulse duration with exponential fall 50uS-100uS, rising edge time 2uS-3uS. See yellow color channel record on the scope video:


The blue color record channel in scope video above is ADC input test point. ADC conversion and signal analyzing has internally programmed delays, so not all pulses are sampled for spectrum collection, only these with sucsessful flat amplitude output.

Electrical circuit, PCB design and microcontroller software are closed and not planned for futher publical share. The analog circuit and software will need minor calibrating for a particular tube, so it's better to have an oscilloscope and some previous experience to deal with PMT tubes in spectroscopy subject. With correct setup you can get FWHM resolution <7%

Resulting Gamma Spectrum

What is required hardware calibration for the module?

If you get pulse pre-amplifier with divider board from us then check DC voltage value on the output, it can vary from 5mV-100mV (depend on type). Check without PMT attached or if PMT is attached check without any rad.source on the crystal. If you use third-side pulse amplifier check if it DC decoupled on the output or not. Recommended DC offset is 5mV-100mV. If your amplifier has capacitor on the output (meaning is DC decoupled) you need to solder 2pcs 0805 SMD resistors to add that DC bias to the module board. I recommend 100K+1K to get ~30mV DC bias. Two empty pads for 2pcs 0805 are located right after SMA input on TP1. 

Connect the amplifier to MCA module and test TP1 has 5mV~30mV DC bias coming from pulse amplifier output or from two 0805 installed resistors. Just one of two sources for DC bias is legal.

Test TP4 and set voltage on it with small blue potentiometer. The TP4 need to be 10mV-40mV above the TP1 value. For example TP4 = TP1 + 20mV = 50mV The correct value for your setup depend on tube type, high voltage noise and lowest energy pulse amplitude.

TP2 is voltage reference point for PIC18 ADC. The circuit uses default filtered 3.3V, but the PCB allows to solder VREF IC LM4040 sot-23 or one with same pinout. If you add VREF IC then you will need to change one 0603 resistor on the module. The modification is on your own soldering skills. If you change VREF from 3.3V to any other value between 1.2V-3.0V then be sure your pulse amplifier dynamic range is limited up to your new VREF value. Supplying 3300mV pulses into ADC with VREF of 2500mV is prohibited! Not sure if you need new VREF? Just use default setup.

On TP3 you can view pulses that are coming to ADC (blue line readings in the video above). Connect second channel of the scope to TP1 and check that rising edges of simultaneous pulses are synchronized. If get bumps or slopes on ADC input reading then your pulse amplifier need timing adjustments. Again, see video to validate the correct shape of signals.

All further setup is only to find correct and best high voltage value on tube for better resolution. Probably TP4 re-adjustment may require for lowest energy range. It trial and error process, no one can say what is exact values you need here with PMT you connect. You can spend all day collecting spectra, comparing it and re-adjusting the settings again. Be preparing for spending hours on it.

Test Points layout for calibration 

Along with finding best HV settings you need to set up the software. It’s time now to describe menu options. Long press on left button will open the menu. It has following items:

DUMP to SD – will write spectrum to SD on demand. Require only if you want to safe the data before waiting spectrum collection is ended.

RESTART – restart new spectrum, all previous data of current collected spectrum will be erased.

RETURN – exit from menu without making and changes.




SET MAX CNT – set maximum counts in one channel. You can set from 1000 up to 65000 counts in one channel. The value will stop spectrum measurement when number is reached in particular channel and will trigger auto-dumping to SD.

SET MAX TIME – set maximum time of spectrum measurement in seconds. You can set from 100 up to 3600. The value will stop spectrum measurement when number is reached and will trigger auto-dumping to SD.

The first reached value between MAX CNT or MAX TIME will trigger auto-dumping spectrum to SD.

DC OFFSET – this what you read on TP1, but in ADC units! By default it set to recommended 0 (zero). If your DC offset in amplifier is higher than 100mV it suggested to try that function for better display view of spectrum. How to calculate ADC unit? Use VREF/1024. For example 3300/1024 = 3.22; Then 100mV/ 3.22 = 31 ADC units. So you can set DC OFFSET = 31 Beware, wrong settings here may lead to software instability! That’s way be careful and not increase that value in large steps.  




SET MIN CH – this is minimal channel number you want to view on spectrum. It works to filter out PMT noise on energy below 20keV. Trial and error method. Default is 10.

SET MAX CH – same as previous function, but form the top side of spectrum. If dynamic range of the amplifier gather all highest energies above 1700keV into one big bump on the spectrum right side then you can cut-off it with that filter.

SAVE&RESET – you need to make software reset if any of functions above where changed to get it works.




During spectra measurement you can switch between linear or logarithmic scale by pressing right button shortly.


DIy MCA Log Scale Spectra


After dumping to SD make long press on right button to restart new measurement.

What you get on SD? Use SD card formatted with FAT or FAT16. FAT32 is not supported. The data is saved in CSV format file. That file can be opened with BecqMonitor2011 software on computer. You need to perform 3-point energy calibration of BecqMonitor2011 before you check resolution at 662keV. Use Cs-137 with K-40 to find channels number for 32keV, 662keV and 1461keV.

DOWNLOAD BecqMonitor2011


The software of MCA  module can automatically create up to 256 CSV files on SD card. The time stamp of files is not updated in current version. Beware, the software currently uses HEX format for file name order! It mean the first file has name SPECTR00.CSV, the tenth file has name SPECTR0A.CSV, the last file has name SPECTRFF.CSV If you have experience with computer or microcontroller programming then you probably know about hex numbers, anyway here is example screenshot:

HEX name list example

MCA prototype PCB manufactured

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