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α, β∧γ Radiations
Alpha particles
Beta particles
Gamma rays
Geiger Muller Counter
Concept of Quenching
Organic Quenching
Halogen Quenching
Characteristics of G.M. Tube
Dead Time
Recovery Time
The purpose of this experiment is to make the students familiar with the “Geiger Muller Counter” a
widely used pulse counting instrument that used gas amplification which makes it remarkably simple
and a sensitive but whose simple construction makes it relatively inexpensive. The experiments that
are designed to accomplish this purpose deal with the resolving-time corrections and the basic
nuclear considerations involved.
In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles
through space or through a material medium. This includes:
Electro-magnetic radiation (also known as "continuum radiation") such as radio waves, visible light,
x-rays, and γ.
Particle radiation such as α, β, and neutron radiation (discrete rest energy per particle)
Acoustic radiation such as ultrasound, sound, and seismic waves. (dependent on intervening mass
for transmission)
Radiation is often categorized as either ionizing or non- ionizing depending on the energy of the
radiated particles. Ionizing radiation carries more than 10 eV, which is enough to ionize atoms and
molecules, and break chemical bonds. This is an important distinction due to the large difference in
harmfulness to living organisms. A common source of ionizing radiation is radioactive materials that
emit α, β, or γ radiation, consisting of helium nuclei, electrons or positrons, and photons,

respectively. Other sources include X-rays from medical radiography examinations

and muons, mesons, positrons, neutrons and other particles that constitute the secondary cosmic
rays that are produced after primary cosmic rays interact with Earth's atmosphere.
Gamma rays, X-rays and the higher energy range of ultraviolet light constitute the ionizing part of
the electromagnetic spectrum. The lower-energy, longer-wavelength part of the spectrum including
visible light, infrared light, microwaves, and radio waves is non- ionizing; its main effect when
interacting with tissue is heating. This type of radiation only damages cells if the intensity is high
enough to cause excessive heating. Ultraviolet radiation has some features of both ionizing and non-
ionizing radiation. While the part of the ultraviolet spectrum that penetrates the Earth's atmosphere
is non-ionizing, this radiation does far more damage to many molecules in biological systems than
can be accounted for by heating effects, sunburn being a well-known example. These properties
derive from ultraviolet's power to alter chemical bonds, even without having quite enough energy to
ionize atoms.
The word radiation arises from the phenomenon of waves radiating (i.e., traveling outward in all
directions) from a source. This aspect leads to a system of measurements and physical units that are
applicable to all types of radiation. Because such radiation expands as it passes through space, and
as its energy is conserved (in vacuum), the intensity of all types of radiation from a point source
follows an inverse-square law in relation to the distance from its source.
Alpha particles:
Alpha Particles are released by high mass, proton rich unstable nuclei. The alpha particle is a helium
nucleus; it consists of two protons and two neutrons. It contains no electrons to balance the two
positively charged protons. Alpha particles are therefore positively charged particles moving at high

Beta particles:
Beta particles are emitted by neutron rich unstable nuclei. Beta particles are high energy electrons.
These electrons are not electrons from the electron shells around the nucleus, but are generated
when a neutron in the nucleus splits to form a proton and an accompanying electron. Beta particles
are negatively charged.
Gamma rays:
Gamma rays are electromagnetic waves of very short wavelength and high frequency. Gamma rays
are emitted by most radioactive sources along with alpha or beta particles. After alpha or beta
emission the remaining nucleus may still be in an excited energy state.
By releasing a gamma photon, it reduces to a lower energy state. Gamma rays have no electrical
charge associated with them.
We use Geiger Muller Counter for the detection of these radiations.


BACKGROUND In 1908 Hans Geiger, under the supervision of Ernest Rutherford at the Victoria
University of Manchester (now the University of Manchester), developed an experimental technique
for detecting alpha particles that would later be used in the Geiger-muller tube. This counter was
only capable of detecting alpha particles and was part of a larger experimental apparatus. The
fundamental ionization mechanism used was discovered by John Sealy Townsend by his work
between 1897 and 1901, and is known as the Townsend discharge, which is the ionization of
molecules by ion impact.
It was not until 1928 that Geiger and Walther Mü ller (a PhD student of Geiger) developed the sealed
Geiger-Mü ller tube which could detect more types of ionizing radiation and it became a practical
radiation sensor. Once this was available, Geiger counter instruments could be produced relatively
cheaply because the large output pulse required little electronic processing to give a count rate
reading, which was a distinct advantage in the thermionic valve era due to valve cost and power
Modern versions of the Geiger counter use the halogen tube invented in 1947 bySidney H. Liebson.
It superseded the earlier Geiger tube because of its much longer life and lower operating voltage,
typically 400-600 volts."


Basically, the Geiger Counter consist of two electrodes with a gas at a reduced pressure between
the electrodes. The outer electrode (celled cathode) is usually a cylinder, while the inner electrode
(called anode) is a thin wire positioned in the center of the cylinder. The voltage between these two
electrodes is maintained at such a value that virtually any ionizing particle entering the Geiger tube
will cause an electrical avalanche within the tube. The Geiger tube used in this experiment is called
an end-window tube because this has a thin window at one end through which the ionizing radiation
The Geiger counter does not differentiate between kinds of particles or energies, it tells only that
certain number of particles (Betas and Gammas for this experiment) entered the detector during its
operation. The voltage pulse from the avalanche is typically greater than 1 volt in amplitude. These
pulses are large enough that they are counted in the scalar directly without amplification.

Gm counter diagram
A Geiger counter (Geiger-Muller tube) is a device used for the detection and measurement of all
types of radiation: alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Basically it consists of a pair of electrodes
surrounded by a gas. The electrodes have a high voltage across them. The gas used is usually Helium
or Argon. When radiation enters the tube it can ionize the gas. The ions (and electrons) are attracted
to the electrodes and an electric current is produced. A scalar counts the current pulses, and one
obtains a ”count” whenever radiation ionizes the gas. The apparatus consists of two parts, the tube
and the (counter + power supply). The Geiger-Mueller tube is usually cylindrical, with a wire down
the center. The (counter + power supply) have voltage controls and timer options. A high voltage is
established across the cylinder and the wire as shown in the figure. When ionizing radiation such as
an alpha, beta or gamma particle enters the tube, it can ionize some of the gas molecules in the
tube. From these ionized atoms, an electron is knocked out of the atom, and the remaining atom is
positively charged. The high voltage in the tube produces an electric field inside the tube. The
electrons that were knocked out of the atom are attracted to the positive electrode, and the
positively charged ions are attracted to the negative electrode. This produces a pulse of current in
the wires connecting the electrodes, and this pulse is counted. After the pulse is counted, the
charged ions become neutralized, and the Geiger counter is ready to record another pulse. In order
for the Geiger counter tube to restore itself quickly to its original state after radiation has entered, a
gas is added to the tube. For proper use of the Geiger counter, one must have the appropriate
voltage across the electrodes. If the voltage is too low, the electric field in the tube is too weak to
cause a current pulse. If the voltage is too high, the tube will undergo continuous discharge, and the
tube can be damaged. Usually the manufacture recommends the correct voltage to use for the tube.
Larger tubes require larger voltages to produce the necessary electric

fields inside the tube. In class we will do an experiment to determine the proper operating voltage.
First we will place a radioactive isotope in from of the Geiger-Mueller tube. Then, we will slowly vary
the voltage across the tube and measure the counting rate. In the figure I have included a graph of
what we might expect to see when the voltage is increased across the tube. For low voltages, no
counts are recorded. This is because the electric field is too weak for even one pulse to be recorded.
As the voltage is increased, eventually one obtains a counting rate. The voltage at which the G-M
tube just begins to count is called the starting potential. The counting rate quickly rises as the
voltage is increased. For our equipment, the rise is so fast, that the graph looks like a “step”
potential. After the quick rise, the counting rate levels off. This range of voltages is termed the
“plateau” region. Eventually, the voltage becomes too high and we have continuous discharge. The
threshold voltage is the voltage where the plateau region begins. Proper operation is when the
voltage is in the plateau region of the curve. For best operation, the voltage should be selected fairly
close to the threshold voltage, and within the first 1/4 of the way into the plateau region. A rule we
follow with the G- M tubes in our lab is the following: for the larger tubes to set the operating
voltage about 75 Volts above the starting potential; for the smaller tubes to set the operating
voltage about 50 volts above the starting potential. In the plateau region the graph of counting rate
vs. voltage is in general not completely flat. The plateau is not a perfect plateau. In fact, the slope of
the curve in the plateau region is a measure of the quality of the G-M tube. For a good G-M tube, the
plateau region should rise at a rate less than 10 percent per 100 volts. That is, for a change of 100
(∆countingrate) should be less than 0.1. An excellent tube (average countingrate)
could have the plateau slope as low as 3 percent per 100 volts.
This counter also works on the principle of ionization caused by incoming energetic particle in the
gas medium filled between anode and cathode. The electron liberated in the primary ionization
event would get accelerated towards anode because of its high potential. The electron may gain
sufficient energy to cause ionization of other gas molecule. This leads to a chain of ionizing events
which is usually referred to as Townsend avalanche. During this process, there may be interactions in
which excitation of atoms may occur due to sufficient energy of impinging electrons. Such atoms
while de-exciting may emit photons which normally fall in UV or visible region. These photons which
are emitted may again lead to photo electrons due to ionization of gas atoms or due to photoelectric
interaction with walls of counter. Each photo electron would again cause Townsend effect. Such a
series of Townsend

avalanches would lead to discharge in the tube called Geiger-discharge. In such a state there is
formation of dense envelope of electron-ion pairs distributed on either side of anode.
The voltage applied to anode shall be such that it is enough to trigger the avalanche mechanism and
collect total charge (electrons) pertaining to single event leading to Geiger discharge.
Practically the process would not be as simple as above. During the Geiger discharge, there is dense
envelope of electrons and ions. The electrons would drift towards anode and positive ions would
drift towards cathode. The positive ions which drift towards cathode having ionization potential (E)
greater than the work function (W) of cathode material leads to exchange of electron from cathode
and becomes neutral. The excess energy may be dissipated in two forms, one by emission of photon
or an electron form cathode if excess energy is greater than the work function of the cathode
material. This would again initiate another Geiger discharge. The result of this is that the tube would
always be in continuous Geiger discharge and hence will not able to measure any radiation.
The charge migration in the tube leads to reduction in the potential of the anode and an increase in
the potential of the cathode. Either of which may be detected as a signal by counter electronics. As
the negative charge around the anode increases the effective electric field is reduced and eventually
this reduction is such that further avalanches are not possible and the tube can no longer detect the
radiations. This state persists until the sufficient electrons have recombine at the anode and positive
gas ions recombine at the cathode so that the field covering the strength trigger of avalanche. This is
so called dead time of the detector the time after detection that the counter is sensitive for further
avalanche and this existence means that the detector count rate must be corrected to give the
actual count rate. After the detection further detections are possible this would reduce signal
strength. The total time elapses before the fore strength signal is produced by a subsequent event is
called the recovery time.
To overcome this problem, concept of quenching is introduced. There are two types of quenching
i) Organic quenching ii) Halogen quenching

This involves addition of small quantity of organic gas having complex molecule structure. This
prevents the continuous Geiger discharge mechanism by charge transfer collision principle. The
positive ions on their path collide with organic molecules to get neutralized. This makes only ions of
organic gas reach cathode and gets neutralized. If there is any excess energy released leads to
dissociation of organic molecules. Thus multiple Geiger discharges could be avoided.
A typical filling of organic quenched GM tubes is 90% Argon (Principal gas) and 10% of ethyl alcohol
(organic quenching gas). When organic gas gets depleted to a sufficient extent there is occurrence of
multiple discharges frequently and thus the plateau length gets decreased, with slope increased.
Thus the organic quenched GM tubes are characterized by short life time and thus not suitable for
operation in very high fields which leads to large count rate. To overcome this, technique of Halogen
quenching is introduced.
This involves the addition of small quantity of Halogen gas such as Chlorine or Bromine. A typical
filling is about 0.1% of chlorine to Neon. The quenching action is same as that in Organic quenching
process. The diatomic halogen gas molecules too gets dissociated in quenching but gets recombined
to replenish the gas molecules and thus counter life gets extended.
The recombination of positive detection gas ions of the cathode

The important parameters which decide the quality of functioning of Gm tubes are
Dead time
Recovery time
Plateau length &Plateau slope
As discussed above, the positive ions take considerable time to reach cathode tube compared to
electrons. The reason is that the mobility of electrons is about 1000 times greater than that of
electrons. Due to the low drift velocity of positive ions, there is formation of cloud of positive ions
which tend to electric field opposite to that of actual field.
This reduces the electric field intensity due to anode potential and thus affects gas multiplication
factor. This in turn affects the pulse heights.
In high count rates, it is more worse that there is formation of dense positive cloud which makes the
electric field intensity in the vicinity of anode wire reduce by great margin thus multiplication goes
down by big margin. During this phase of detector, any new ionizing event caused by incoming
particle cannot be recorded. Thus the time interval during which any event caused by newly
incoming particle would not get counted and called as dead time of the country.
After certain time, all the positive ions tend to reach cathode wall and thus the electric field begins
to restore to actual value. When the electric field goes beyond a critical value there is again
formation for pulses. But the process requires some time to give maximum pulse heights. Hence the
total time required for GM tube to give maximum pulse height pulses is Recovery time.


In order to decide the operating voltage of the GM tube, a graph between anode voltage (X axis)
and count rate (Y axis) is plotted. After applying minimum voltage to initiate Geiger discharge, the
no. of pulses shall remain same in fixed radiation field exposure. But due to formation of short
pulses during recovery time there is variation in count rate. Thus one of the quality parameters
deciding the operation of GM tube is that plateau slope shall be less. Usually 2-3% plateau slope is a
good choice. As we go on applying voltage to the anode, the tube starts entering continuous
discharge region. Thus the slope gets worsened. The region or length of voltage region during which
the plateau slope remains in desired value is called as plateau length and usually the operating
voltage is chosen at the midpoint of plateau length.

Alpha decay :
Emission of alpha particles from a heavy unstable nucleus is called alpha decay. Alpha particles have
two protons and two neutrons, so in this process atomic number of parent nucleus is changed by 2
and mass number is changed by 2. Some energy is also emitted in this process. Uranium, plutonium
americium etc are alpha particle emitters.
Beta decay :
Elements which emit beta particles from their nucleus are called beta emitters and process is called
beta decay. In this process either a positive electron (positron) is emitted or a negative electron is
emitted. In positron emission a proton is converted into neutron and positron is emitted. This
process will convert atom to next below atomic number element. In electron emission process a
neutron is converted into proton and an electron is produced. Ad electron has energy very less so it
cannot stay inside nucleus so they are emitted and so atom is transformed into next above atomic
number element.
There is another process which takes place in beta decay that is called electron capture. In this
process an electron from electronic shell is swallowed by nucleus and a proton is converted into
neutron so atom is transmuted into next below atomic number element.
Gamma decay :
Atoms emitting gamma radiation is called gamma emitters and phenomena is called gamma decay.
During some nuclear reactions or in some decay processes discussed above, atom after reaction may
have some excess amount which it can emit through nuclear transitions, called gamma radiations. In
gamma decay no nuclear transmutation takes place but atoms are only transformed from excited to
ground states.
Experiment: Linear absorption coefficient

Source of radiation .
Sheets of different absorbing materials (Aluminum and Lead). Geiger detector.
HV power supply.
1- Connect the plugs of the electric mains.
2- Set the timer to 60s and the operating voltage to 380 Volt.
3- Record the count rate per one minute for the back ground (IB.G).
4- Put the source in front of the GM tube.
5- Record the count rate ( I0 ).
6- Place Al sheet midway between the source and the GM tube.
7- Record the count rate (I1 and I2) and then find Iavg..
8- Repeat steps 6 and 7 with increasing the thickness of the absorbing
9- Place Pb sheet and repeat steps 6,7 and 8.
10- Plot a graph between ln( I0 / I ) and thickness X, if the relation is a straight line, then the
absorption law is verified.
11- Find the slope from the graph, this is equal to the linear absorption coefficient.
12- Calculate the mass absorption coefficient.
13- Plot a graph between ( I ) and thickness (X), then find the value of the half thickness graphically.
14- Calculate the half thickness theoretically by using eq.(4).
15- Plot a graph between the linear absorption coefficient (μ) and atomic number (Z).

The operating voltage should correspond to the midpoint of flat plateau region.
In case the continuous discharge is produced, the voltage should be lowered.
The applied voltage must be relatively stabilized.
Introduction of light should be prevented to avoid photo electric
Place the source at 5cm from the window.
Course Manual