Introduction to Radiation Detectors

For those who work with or around radiation, one of the most important factors is understanding the radiation levels around you. This is mainly achieved through the use of different types of radiation detectors. A basic understanding of the different types of detectors and how they work goes a long way in finding the best detector for the required task and maximizing the benefits of operating that detector.

When many people think about radiation detection, they tend to refer to them collectively as "Geiger counters," a misunderstanding heavily encouraged by popular television shows and movies. Although one of the most common types of radiation detectors is actually called a "Geiger-Muller (G-M) tube," the blanket phrase "Geiger counter" is not always the most appropriate. It is suitable for a very specific type of detector and often for that detector's specific application. Radiation detection devices are often classified according to the type of detector element employed or the application involved. The instrument is called an ionization chamber, a meter, a contamination meter, or a Frisker probe. Popular culture has so overturned the correct use of "Geiger counter" that using the phrase often does not provide enough information about the device in question.

First Radiation Detector
Since Roentgen and Becquerel's early radiation tests, scientists have been looking for ways to measure and observe the radiation emitted by the materials they work with. One of the earliest methods of capturing radioactivity data was photographic plates. Photographic plates will be placed in the path of/near the radioactive beam or material. When a plate is developed, it can become mottled or fogged from exposure to radiation. Henri Becquerel demonstrated the existence of radiation in 1896 using a similar method.