Ionising radiation is measured with a Geiger counter, sometimes referred to as a Geiger-Muller counter or radiation detector. When an atom or molecule’s closely bound electrons are removed by an energy-rich form of radiation known as ionising radiation, ions (charged particles) are produced. This procedure poses a serious risk to the health of living things by damaging biological tissues and changing chemical structures. Ionising radiation is detected and quantified using geiger counters, which helps to protect both human health and the environment. Let’s see in detail about what does a geiger counter measure.
What does a geiger counter measure?
Ionising radiation comes in a variety of forms, and a Geiger counter can detect the majority of them. The main kinds of ionising radiation are as follows:
1. Alpha Particles : Two protons and two neutrons make up the relatively heavy, positively charged alpha particle. They are produced by several radioactive substances, including radon and uranium, and have a modest penetrating power. Alpha particle detection via geiger counters is possible, but their range is quite small—usually just a few centimetres in the air or on a sheet of paper.
2. Beta Particles : The high-energy electrons (beta-minus) or positrons (beta-plus) that some radioactive isotopes emit are known as beta particles. Although they can pierce materials more deeply than alpha particles, materials like plastic or glass can still stop them. Beta particles can be detected by Geiger counters.
3. Gamma Rays : Gamma rays are X-ray-like electromagnetic radiation with a greater energy level. They can cut through most materials and have a high penetration rate. Gamma rays can be detected using Geiger counters.
4. X-Rays : Although X-rays are electromagnetic radiation as well, they are typically created artificially for use in industrial testing, medical imaging, and other uses. Due to the ionising nature of X-rays, Geiger counters can detect them.
5. Neutrons : Neutrons are neutral subatomic particles that are frequently released during fission and nuclear reactions. Compared to other forms of ionising radiation, neutrons have a lower sensitivity to Geiger counters. Neutron detection often involves the use of specialised detectors, such as neutron detectors.
How a Geiger Counter Works?
The ionisation of gas molecules inside a Geiger counter’s detection chamber is what drives the device’s operation. This is how it goes:
1. Gas Filled Tube : A gas-filled tube that is often constructed of substances like argon or helium forms the heart of a Geiger counter. A low-pressure gas that can be ionised by external radiation is present inside the tube.
2. High Voltage : The electrodes inside the tube are subjected to a high voltage, which produces an electric field. This field prevents electrical conduction by keeping the gas molecules in a unionised state.
3. Ionization Events : Ionising radiation, such as alpha, beta, gamma, or X-rays, collides with gas molecules as it enters the tube. Due to these collisions, electrons from the gas molecules may be ejected, resulting in pairs of positive ions and free electrons.
4. Avalanche Effect : The electric field inside the tube accelerates the free electrons produced by ionisation events. The “avalanche effect” is a series of ionisation events that are triggered by this acceleration.
5. Detecting the Avalanche : The electronics of the Geiger counter may pick up a very small electric current produced by the avalanche of ionisation events. The strength of the radiation that entered the tube is inversely correlated with this current pulse.
6. Audible or Visual Indicator : It is common for Geiger counters to have an audible speaker that emits the distinctive clicking sound for each ionisation event. They frequently also have a visual display that depicts the radiation strength in counts per minute (CPM) or other units, such as an analogue metre or digital readout.
Applications of Geiger Counter
Geiger counters are used in a broad variety of fields, including:
1. Radiation Protection : In settings where radiation exposure is a concern, such as nuclear power plants, healthcare facilities, and locations with a potential for radioactive contamination, they are used to monitor ionising radiation levels.
2. Healthcare : X-ray and gamma radiation exposure during medical imaging and cancer treatment are monitored using geiger counters in medical diagnosis and therapy.
3. Nuclear Research : They are used in nuclear physics experiments as well as nuclear research to understand the behaviour of radioactive materials.
4. Environmental Monitoring : Geiger counters are used to measure environmental radiation levels, including background radiation from the sun and contamination from nuclear accidents or waste.
5. Education : Geiger counters are useful instructional resources for ionising radiation, radioactivity, and radiation safety instruction.
6. Space Exploration : To detect cosmic radiation and radiation levels on other planets or celestial bodies, geiger counters have been employed in space missions.
In conclusion, an instrument known as a Geiger counter measures ionising radiation, such as alpha and beta particles, gamma rays, X-rays, and occasionally neutrons. It measures ionisation events in a gas-filled tube to determine radiation levels and outputs both aural and visual cues. Geiger counters are essential instruments for ensuring the safety of people and the environment in a variety of ionising radiation-related applications in radiation protection, healthcare, research, environmental monitoring, and education. So this is all about the What does a geiger counter measure.