Principles of Detectors – Methods of Detection

Basic Principles of Detectors

Detector of Ionizing Radiation - basic scheme
Detectors of ionizing radiation consist of two parts that are usually connected. The first part consists of a sensitive material, consisting of a compound that experiences changes when exposed to radiation. The other component is a device that converts these changes into measurable signals.

There are three main types of detectors, which record different types of signals.

  • Counter. The activity or intensity of radiation is measured in counts per second (cps). The best known counter is the Geiger-Müller counter. In radiation counters the generated signal from the incident radiation is created by the counting of the number of interactions occurring at the sensitive volume of the detector.
  • Radiation Spectrometer. Spectrometers are devices designed to measure the spectral power distribution of a source. The incident radiation generates a signal that allows to determine the energy of the incident particle.
  • Dosimeter. A radiation dosimeter is a device that measures exposure to ionizing radiation. Dosimeters usually record a dose, which is the absorbed radiation energy measured in grays (Gy) of the equivalent dose measured in sieverts (Sv) A personal dosimeter is dosimeter, that is worn at the surface of the body by the person being monitored, and it  records of the radiation dose received.

All these types of equipment require that the radiations result in observable changes in a compound (whether gas, liquid or solid). In their basic principles of operation, most detectors of ionizing radiation follow similar characteristics. Detectors of ionizing radiation consist of two parts that are usually connected. The first part consists of a sensitive material, consisting of a compound that experiences changes when exposed to radiation. The other component is a device that converts these changes into measurable signals. All detectors require that radiation must deposit some of its energy in sensitive material that forms part of the instrument. The radiation enters the detector, interacts with atoms of the detector material and deposits some energy to sensitive material. Each event may generate a signal, which can be a pulse, hole, light signal, ion pairs in a gas, and many others. The main task is to generate sufficient signal, amplify it and to record it.

In this section we describe a number of different types of radiation measuring instruments. We focus on the first part, which consists of a sensitive material. Detectors may be categorized according to sensitive materials and methods that can be utilized to make a measurement:

  • Gaseous Ionization Detectors
  • Scintillation Detectors
  • Semiconductor Detectors
  • Film Badges
  • TLD

Let assume gaseous ionization detectors. Basic gaseous ionization detector consists of a chamber that is filled with a suitable medium (air or a special fill gas) that can be easily ionized. As a general rule, the center wire is the positive electrode (anode) and the outer cylinder is the negative electrode (cathode), so that (negative) electrons are attracted to the center wire and positive ions are attracted to the outer cylinder. The anode is at a positive voltage with respect to the detector wall. As ionizing radiation enters the gas between the electrodes, a finite number of ion-pairs are formed. Under the influence of the electric field, the positive ions will move toward the negatively charged electrode (outer cylinder), and the negative ions (electrons) will migrate toward the positive electrode (central wire). The collection of these ions will produce a charge on the electrodes and an electrical pulse across the detection circuit. However it is a small signal, this signal can be amplified, and then recorded using standard electronics.


Radiation Protection:

  1. Knoll, Glenn F., Radiation Detection and Measurement 4th Edition, Wiley, 8/2010. ISBN-13: 978-0470131480.
  2. Stabin, Michael G., Radiation Protection and Dosimetry: An Introduction to Health Physics, Springer, 10/2010. ISBN-13: 978-1441923912.
  3. Martin, James E., Physics for Radiation Protection 3rd Edition, Wiley-VCH, 4/2013. ISBN-13: 978-3527411764.
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, Instrumantation and Control. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 of 2. June 1992.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  7. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

See above:

Radiation Detection