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How Geiger Counters Work

How do Geiger Counters Work?

Geiger counters, also known as Geiger-Muller counters, are high-tech instruments designed to detect and measure ionizing radiation. They are able to detect the alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays classified as nuclear radiation.

The Geiger counter employs a Geiger-Muller tube containing low-pressure gas. The gas may be neon, helium or argon that has had halogens added to it. When a photon or particle of radiation passes through the tube, the gas conducts electricity which the tube causes to be amplified. The result is a current pulse which, depending on the specific counter, will cause an audible click, move a meter needle, or cause a lamp to light. geiger counter

Today’s Geiger counters remain the instrument of choice for the detection of alpha, beta and gamma radiation. They are very effective in detecting contamination and in measuring the amount of radiation present. Most models currently in field use are built to be very rugged and they come at very affordable prices relative to Geiger counters of just a generation ago.

History of the Geiger Counter
Hans Geiger, a German physicist, has his name attached to the Geiger counter but the invention was a cumulative effort with Ernest Rutherford and Walther Muller. The original device was invented in 1908 but only later became known by its current name. Twenty years later, the invention was improved with the introduction of the Geiger-Muller tube. Innovation and improvement in Geiger counters continues but their essential functionality dates back to 1908 and 1928 when their key components were invented.

Fields of Use for Geiger Counter
Geiger counters are widely used wherever ionizing radiation may be present. They are relied upon in geology and mining to detect the presence of radioactive minerals. In the health physics field they are essential tools for discovering radiation leaks. In industry, Geiger counters are used as monitoring devices to warn of radiation leaks in processes or machinery that contain radioactive elements. The simple design of the instrument and their affordability, along with the increased use of radioactive materials, means that they are used more widely now than ever before.

Modern Geiger counters have been refined in their ability to detect and measure ionizing radiation and to record the data for accurate measurements. As with all technology, they have also come down in cost, making Geiger counters more affordable and therefore more widely used in a broad range of applications.