Geiger-Mueller Region – Ionization Detector

Detector of Ionizing Radiation - Geiger Tube
Detector of Ionizing Radiation – Geiger Tube

The relationship between the applied voltage and pulse height in a detector is very complex. Pulse height and the number of ion pairs collected are directly related. As was written, the voltages can vary widely depending upon the detector geometry and the gas type and pressure. The figure schematically indicates the different voltage regions for alpha, beta and gamma rays. There are six main practical operating regions, where three (ionization, proportional and Geiger-Mueller region) are useful to detect ionizing radiation. These reqions are shown below. The alpha curve is higher than the beta and gamma curve from recombination region to part of limited proportionality region due to the larger number of ion pairs produced by the initial reaction of the incident radiation.

Gaseous Ionization Detectors - Regions
This diagram shows the number of ion pairs generated in the gas-filled detector, which varies according to the applied voltage for constant incident radiation. The voltages can vary widely depending upon the detector geometry and the gas type and pressure. This figure schematically indicates the different voltage regions for alpha, beta and gamma rays. There are six main practical operating regions, where three (ionization, proportional and Geiger-Mueller region) are useful to detect ionizing radiation. Alpha particles are more ionising than beta particles and than gamma rays, so more current is produced in the ion chamber region by alpha than beta and gamma, but the particles cannot be differentiated. More current is produced in the proportional counting region by alpha particles than beta, but by the nature of proportional counting it is possible to differentiate alpha, beta and gamma pulses. In the Geiger region, there is no differentiation of alpha and beta as any single ionisation event in the gas results in the same current output.
Visualisation of the spread of Townsend avalanches by means of UV photons. Source: wikpedia.org License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Geiger-Mueller Region

In the Geiger-Mueller region, the voltage and thus  the electric field is so strong that secondary avalanches can occur. These avalanches can be triggered and propagated by photons emitted by atoms excited in the original avalanche. Since these photons are not affected by the electric field, they may interact far (e.g. laterally to the axis) from the primary avalanche, the entire Geiger tube is participating in the process. A strong signal (the amplification factor can reach about 1010) is produced by these avalanches with shape and height independently of the primary ionization and the energy of the detected photon.  Detectors, which are operated in the Geiger-Mueller region, are capable of detection of gamma rays, and also of all types of charged particles, that can enter the detector. These detectors are known as Geiger counters. Main advantage of these instruments is that they usually do not require any signal amplifiers. Since the positive ions do not move far from the avalanche region, a positively charged ion cloud disturbs the electric field and terminates the avalanche process. In practice the termination of the avalanche is improved by the use of “quenching” techniques. In contrast to proportional counters the energy or even incident radiation particle cannot not be distinguished by Geiger counters, since the output signal is independent of the amount and type of original ionization.

References:

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.
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Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

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  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

See above:

Gaseous Detectors