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Lecture 3 CMT670

Radiation Detection
Nuclear radiation and x-rays are ionizing radiation
and they can be detected from the ionizing events
they produce.

Radioactivity refers to the particles which are

emitted from nuclei as a result of nuclear instability.
Because the nucleus experiences the intense
conflict between the two strongest forces in nature,
it should not be surprising that there are many
nuclear isotopes which are unstable and emit some
kind of radiation. The most common types of
radiation are called alpha, beta, and gamma
radiation, but there are several other varieties of
radioactive decay.

Radioactive decay rates are normally stated in terms of their half-lives, and the half-life
of a given nuclear species is related to its radiation risk. The different types of
radioactivity lead to different decay paths which transmute the nuclei into other chemical
elements. Examining the amounts of the decay products makes possible radioactive
Radiation from nuclear sources is distributed equally in all directions, obeying the
inverse square law.
Alpha, Beta, and Gamma

Historically, the products of radioactivity were called alpha, beta,

and gamma when it was found that they could be analyzed into
three distinct species by either a magnetic field or an electric field.
Since the quantum energies of x-ray photons are much too
high to be absorbed in electron transitions between states for
most atoms, they can interact with an electron only by
knocking it completely out of the atom. That is, all x-rays are
classified as ionizing radiation. This can occur by giving all of
the energy to an electron (photoionization) or by giving part of
the energy to the electron and the remainder to a lower
energy photon (Compton scattering). At sufficiently high
energies, the x-ray photon can create an electron positron
Ionizing Radiation
• The practical threshold for radiation risk is that of
ionization of tissue. Since the ionization energy
of a hydrogen atom is 13.6 eV, the level around
10 eV is an approximate threshold. Since the
energies associated with nuclear radiation are
many orders of magnitude above this threshold,
in the MeV range, then all nuclear radiation is
ionizing radiation. Likewise, x-rays are ionizing
radiation, as is the upper end of the ultraviolet
1. Ionization Counters
• Radiation detection can be accomplished by stretching a wire inside a gas-
filled cylinder and raising the wire to a high positive voltage.
• The total charge produced by the passage of an ionizing particle through the
active volume can be collected and measured.
• Different names are used for the devices based on the amount of voltage
applied to the center electrode and the consequent nature of the
ionizing events. If the voltage is high enough for the primary electron-ion
pair to reach the electrodes but not high enough for secondary ionization, the
device is called and ionization chamber. The collected charge is
proportional to the number of ionizing events, and such devices are typically
used as radiation dosimeters.
• At a higher voltage, the number of ionizations associated with a particle
detection rises steeply because of secondary ionizations, and the device is
often called a proportional counter. A single event can cause a voltage pulse
proportional to the energy loss of the primary particle. At a still higher
voltage, an avalanche pulse is produced by a single event in the devices
called Geiger counters.
Geiger Counter

The meter shown is a sensitive survey meter which is used in a research lab to
detect low levels of radiation. Geiger counters are ionization detectors which
operate at a high voltage, in the region where an avalanche pulse is produced by a
single event.
This is a closer view of the scale and the detector head. A thin molybdenum window
is often used on the detector heads.
A typical configuration for Geiger counters has been a wire on the centerline of a
cylinder. A high voltage is maintained between the wire and the cylinder. When a
high energy particle enters the cavity and ionizes a few air molecules, the free
electrons are accelerated strongly toward the wire. In the process, those electrons
ionize many more air molecules, producing a current pulse. Survey meters like the
one shown often convert the current pulses into audible clicks, producing the sound
popularly associated with Geiger counters.
2. Scintillation Counters
Radiation detection can be accomplished by the use of a scintillator:
a substance which emits light when struck by an ionizing particle.

The scintillation detectors used in the Geiger-Marsden experiment were simple

phosphor screens which emitted a flash of light when struck by an alpha particle.

Modern scintillation counters may use single crystals of NaI doped with
thallium. Electrons from the ionizing event are trapped into an excited state of
the thallium activation center and emit a photon when they decay to the
ground state.

Photomultiplier tubes are used to intensify the signal from the scintillations.
The decay times are on the order of 200 ns and the magnitude of the output pulse
from the photomultiplier is proportional to the energy loss of the primary particle.

Organic scintillators such as a mixture of polystyrene and tetraphenyl butadine.

They have the advantage of faster decay time ( about 1 ns) and can be molded into
experimentally useful configurations.
Scintillation of Organic Scintillators
In organic molecules scintillation is a product of π-orbitals. Organic
materials form molecular crystals where the molecules are loosely bound
by Van der Waals forces.
The ground state of 12C is 1s2 2s2 2p2. When carbon forms compounds
one of the 2s electrons is excited into the 2p state resulting in a
configuration of 1s2 2s1 2p3.
To describe the different valencies of carbon, the four valence electron
orbitals, one 2s and three 2p, are considered to be mixed or hybridized in
several alternative configurations

For example, in a tetrahedral configuration the s and p3 orbitals combine

to produce four hybrid orbitals. In another configuration, known as trigonal
configuration, one of the p-orbitals (say pz) remains unchanged and three
hybrid orbitals are produced by mixing the s, px and py orbitals. The
orbitals that are symmetrical about the bonding axes and plane of the
molecule (sp2) are known as σ-electrons and the bonds are called σ-
bonds. The pz orbital is called a π-orbital. A π-bond occurs when two π-
orbitals interact. This occurs when their nodal planes are coplanar.
Scintillation of Organic Scintillators

π-electronic energy levels of an organic molecule. S0 is the ground state. S1, S2,
S3 are excited singlet states. T1, T2, T3 are excited triplet states. S00, S01, S10,
S11 etc. are vibrational sublevels.
Fluorescent Materials

Material Form

NaI (Tl) crystal

CsI (Na) crystal

CaWO4 crystal

ZnS (Ag) powder

p-terphenyl in toluene liquid

p-terphenyl in polystyrene plastic

Photomultiplier Tube
A NaI crystal coupled to a photomultiplier tube.
A single channel analyser with a crystal-PMT assembly.
Output Voltage

This plot illustrates what is obtained for a monoenergetic gamma-emitting

radioisotope, for example 99mTc - which, as we have noted before emits a single
gamma-ray with an energy of 140 keV.
A gamma-ray energy spectrum obtained from Cs-137 using a scintillation
spectrometer. Generated by Kieran Maher using Microsoft Excel.
Pulse Height Analysis

Illustration of the use of pulse height analysis showing the placement of the Lower
Level Discrimination setting (LLD) and the Upper Level Discrimination setting
(ULD) to generate a window which straddles the Photo-peak. Generated by Kieran
Maher using Aldus Super Paint.
Scintillation Spectrometer

Block diagram of a scintillation detector with a single channel analyzer. Generated

by Kieran Maher using Aldus Super Paint.
3.Particle track device
• Radiation detection can take the form of devices which visualize the
track of the ionizing particle.
• Cloud chambers can show the track of a passing particle which can
be photographed.
• D. A. Glaser's invention of the bubble chamber in 1952 largely
replaced the cloud chamber. Placed in an intense magnetic field, the
curvature of the tracks of the primary particles and their products
give information about their charge and momentum.
• Spark chambers can also visualize the tracks of particles and has
the advantage that the paths can be recorded electronically.
The Cloud Chamber
The study of high energy particles was greatly aided in 1912 when C. T. R.
Wilson, a Scottish physicist, devised the cloud chamber. The general procedure
was to allow water to evaporate in an enclosed container to the point of saturation
and then lower the pressure, producing a super-saturated volume of air. Then the
passage of a charged particle would condense the vapor into tiny droplets,
producing a visible trail marking the particle's path.
The device came to be called the Wilson cloud chamber and was used widely in
the study of radioactivity. An alpha particle left a broad, straight path of definite
length while an electron produced a light path with bends due to collisions.
Gamma rays did not produce a visible track since they produce very few ions in
air. The Wilson cloud chamber led to the discovery of recoil electrons from x-ray
and gamma ray collisions, the Compton-scattered electrons, and was used to
discover the first intermediate mass particle, the muon. Wilson was awarded the
Nobel Prize in physics in 1927 for the development of the cloud chamber.
The images at left are typical of those
obtained by Wilson (C. T. R. Wilson, Proc.
Roy. Soc. (London), 87, 292 (1912)). The
cloud chamber provided a device for
studying the collisions between free
particles and the decay of particles in flight.
The cloud chamber found use in particle physics until the invention of the bubble
chamber in 1952 by D. A. Glaser.
Semiconductor Detector
• The semiconductor materials used for
detectors are made from crystalline silicon
or germanium.
• In such materials, the atoms are bonded
together via valence electrons and each
atom is bound to four others.
• In energy terms, these valence electrons
are in the valence band
Semiconductor Detector
• Above the valence band, lies the
conduction band.
• In metals, the energy gap (band gap)
between these two bands is small and so
electrons are easily promoted from the
valence to the conduction band, where
can travel through the crystal lattice quite
• The freedom of movement of electrons in
the conduction band is why metals are
good electrical conductors.
Semiconductor Detector
• Conversely, in insulators the band gap is very wide
and virtually no electrons are found in the
conduction band, hence their inability to conduct
• Semiconductors, as the name implies, lie between
these two extremes.
• In highly pure forms of both silicon and germanium,
the band gap is quite wide and promotion of the
outer valence electrons from the valence to the
conduction band is only brought about at high
temperatures so that these materials have high
resistivity at ambient temperature.
Semiconductor Detector
• If, however, these pure materials are
doped with elements that are either one
place above or below them in the Periodic
Table, then this alters the electrons
structure and effectively reduces the band
Semiconductor Detector
N-type semiconductors
• Choosing silicon (Si), which belongs to
Group IVb of the Periodic Table, as our
typical semiconductor material
(germanium behaves in exactly in the
same way), we can dope this with an
element from Group Vb, such as
• The phosphorous atoms replace silicon
atoms in the crystal lattice.
Semiconductor Detector
N-type semiconductors
• There is a charge imbalance now,
however, with the phophorous having an
extra electrons available which is not used
in covalent bonding to its neighbouring
silicon atom.
• This extra electron is easily leaves a
corresponding positive charge behind.
• Since the electron is donated to the lattice,
elements like phosphorous are known as
‘donor impurities’.
Semiconductor Detector
N-type semiconductors
• Such electrons can occupy positions in the
band gap and require little energy in order
to be promoted to the conduction band.
• The overall effect of such doping is to
produce a materials in which the electrical
conductivity is primarily due to the flow of
• Since the charge carrier is negative, the
doped material is referred to as N-type.
Semiconductor Detector
N-type semiconductors
• Under an applied field, a current of
electrons will flow and the conductivity of a
doped semiconductor can easily be
changed by the level of doping up to a
certain level.
• Doping is normally at the level of a few
Semiconductor Detector
P-type semiconductors
• If, however, silicon is doped with an
element from Group III of the Periodic
Table, eg. Boron, then this element will
have one too few electrons to satisfy the
bonding requirement of silicon.
• Because of the narrowness of the band
gap that now exists, this allows an electron
from silicon with sufficient thermal energy
to move to the boron atom to fulfill the
bonding requirement.
Semiconductor Detector
P-type semiconductors
• Consequently, one of the silicon atom
adjacent to the boron will not have its full
bonding capacity satisfied.
• This is equivalent to creating a hole in the
lattice structure.
• If an electric field is now applied, an
electron will jump from a neighbouring
silicon atom into the hole.
Semiconductor Detector
P-type semiconductors
• This leaves behind a ‘hole’ (positive charge) in
the silicon atom from which the electron jumped
and so the move is equivalent to the migration of
the hole to another site.
• In this way, the positive holes migrate through
the lattice in a completely is due to this hole
migration, with electron deficient impurities being
called ‘acceptor impurities’ has an excess
positive charge it is therefore known as a P-type.
• Obviously, under a given applied field, electrons
and holes will move in opposite direction.
P-N Junction
• When a piece of P-type silicon is brought into
contact with a piece of N-type silicon, then at the
junction of the two pieces there is an excess of
electrons on one side and positive holes on the
other which will move in opposite direction to
cancel out the net charges.
• This occur in a small region either side of the
junction which is now effectively free of charge
carriers and thus forms semiconducting diode.
P-N Junction
• This depleted region can be extended by
applying the a reverse bias to the diode
and it will also now act as a detector of
ionizing radiation since any ions formed
there will be swiftly swept towards the N-
type materials and the electron will move
towards the P-type material under field
that exist there, thus giving rise to an
electrical pulse.
P-N Junction
• The magnitude of the pulse will be directly
proportional to the energy of the ionizing
radiation and so these detectors can
function as energy spectrometers.
• Semiconductor detectors are always
operated at reverse bias. Such a detector
is analogous to a gas-ion chamber
P-N Junction
• There are basically two types of
semiconductor detector used depending
on the radiation to be detected.
• The reverse-bias diode just described is
used for charge-particle detection (both
alpha- and beta-particles) and detectors
for photon counting and spectroscopy,
which operate on a slightly different
Charged-particle detectors
• These detectors are reverse bias diode normally
made from single crystal silicon although
germanium is sometimes used for the detection
of very high energy charged particles.
• The basic type of charged particle detector is the
surface barrier detector.
• Typically, a surface-barrier detector is formed
from N-type silicon which has been etched to
produce an effective but very thin P-type layer
and hence forms a junction
Charged-particle detectors
• A very thin layer of gold evaporated onto the P-
type layer forms an entrance ‘window’.
• The application of a reverse bias, as described
above, has the effect of extending the
compensated region, increasing as the bias is
• In other words, the active volume of the detector
is controlled by the bias applied.
• Such detectors are known as partially depleted
Photon Detector
• In principle, if the donor and acceptor
impurity concentrations are equal in a
semiconductor material then the resulting
material should have the properties of the
depleted region in a charged particle
detector, with relatively few charge carriers
of approximately equal numbers.
Photon Detector
• Consequently, if ionizing radiation passed
through such material then the resulting
electrons and ions could be swept out by the
application of a voltage to produce a suitable
• A material containing such balances impurities is
said to be ‘compensated’.
• Equally, if one could produce extremely pure
semiconductor material, containing insignificant
amounts of impurities, then again one would
have a potential detector.
• Such a high purity semiconductor material is
said to be an intrinsic semiconductor.
Photon Detector
• Since photons require considerably more
material to absorb them than do charged
particles, it is obvious that photon
detectors must have considerably greater
depth than charged particle detectors and
the material for their construction should
preferably have a higher atomic number
than silicon.
Photon Detector
• In fact, gamma-ray detection are usually
made from germanium, as are some X-
rays detectors, although detectors
specifically built for X-rays detection are
frequently based on silicon.
Photon Detector
• Historically, the first useful, semiconductor
photon detectors were prepared by the
compensation technique.
• The method that was developed in the early
1960’s was to produced P-type silicon or
germanium (since P-type material could be
produced in the highest purity) and then
compensate for the excess of acceptor
impurities in this material by diffusing an alkali
metal, i.e. lithium into the P-type crystals.
Photon Detector
• The result is that a P-N junction is formed and
the compensated region can extend up to a
centimeter or more into the original
• Hence, detectors produced in this way are
known as lithium drifted silicon or lithium drifted
germanium detectors, usually abbreviated to
Si(Li) or Ge(Li) and colloquially called ‘silly’ or
‘jelly’ detectors, respectively.
• A high voltage is then applied to provide the
collector field in the detector.
Photon Detector
• Hyperpure detectors are produced either as P-
type or N-type detectors, depending on the
majority carrier concentration of the final
detector and these detector can be stored at
room temperature when not is use but must
usually be operated at liquid nitrogen
temperatures to reduce the leakage current.
• The detectors can also be cooled by a
mechanical refrigeration unit which makes their
operation in areas remote from liquid nitrogen
sources possible.
Passive Detectors
• Is the detector that record and store the events
resulting from the passage of ionizing radiation
and which are subsequently ‘interrogated’,
normally by the application of some physical or
chemical treatment to determine the integrated
• A feature of such detectors is that they require
no direct electronics in order for them to operate
although they may require quite sophisticated
electronics in the production and measurement
of the final output, which is usually a visual one.
Photographic Emulsion
• Possibly the oldest radiation detectors, having
featured in the very origins of the study of
• Due to the fact that photographic emulsions
contain particles of silver halides suspended in a
gelatine emulsion.
• The alpha particles from uranium sensitized the
silver halides, in the same manner that ordinary
light sensitizes them, so that on development the
sensitized grain were converted to black,
metallic silver, while the unsensitized grains
remained unaffected.
Solid State Nuclear Track Detector
• Any heavily ionizing particles (such as
protons or alpha particles) on passing
through insulating materials leave trails of
• In crystals, this is due to atomic
displacements with resulting lattice strain.
• In practice, the polymers are disrupted,
with the formation of molecular fragments
and free radicals.
Solid State Nuclear Track Detector
• There is a threshold density of ionization
which must be exceeded in any given
material before track formation occurs.
• Certain plastics will register quite low
energy protons, whereas most minerals
require massive particles, such as fission
fragments, before any tracks are formed.
Solid State Nuclear Track Detector
• In this way, it is possible to change the
selectivity of the response of a solid-state
nuclear-track detector (SSNTD) to a
particular particle by careful selection of
the detector.
• A useful feature of these devices is their
insensitivity to electrons and gamma-rays
which allows them to be used in high
radiation fields which would swamp other
types of detector.
Solid State Nuclear Track Detector
• This and their simplicity of construction
(often simply a piece of plastic sheet or
film) makes them very useful as detector.
• In crystals or plastics, the tracks are
revealed by the fact that certain chemicals
etch the damaged regions at a much
higher rate than the surrounding,
undamaged materials.
Solid State Nuclear Track Detector
• This produces a hole in the material and if
the etching continues long enough the
hole will be visible through an optical
• In general, until the material is etched the
track will remain invisible, i.e. ‘latent’ in the
material and in some cases for periods on
a geological timescale.
Thermoluminescences Detectors
• Thermoluminescence is the term applied to
semiconductors or insulating materials which
after exposure to ionizing radiation (or other
forms of energy absorption)emit light when
• This thermoluminescence is the thermally
stimulated emission of light and like some
SSNTD’s thermoluminescent materials
(phosphors) are capable of storing the absorbed
energy over long period of time until they are
Thermoluminescences Detectors
• For this reason, natural thermoluminescent
materials like natural SSNTD’s can be used for
dating samples over periods of millions of years.
• In the case of thermoluminescent dating, the
‘date’ obtained will refer back to the last time an
object was heated and re-set the ‘clock’.
• This re-setting of the clock by heating also allows
the phenomenon to be used for archeological
dating for artifacts that have undergone a period
of heating, either intentional or otherwise.
Associated Detector Electronic
• These are the ‘front end’ of a counting
system and in order to convert the
analogue output from the detector into
signals that can be counted or energy
analyzed we require several additional
pieces of electronic equipment.
• A detector plus electronic equipment
constitutes a counting system.
The Modular Counting System
• The electronic used in conjunction with
nuclear detectors should be designed in
accordance with either the ‘Nuclear
Instrument Standard’ (NIM) or the
‘Computer Automated Measurement and
Control’ (CAMAC) standards although the
latter has only really found widespread
acceptance in large, nuclear research
facilities and consequently we shall only
discuss NIM modules here.
The Modular Counting System
• NIM standards is allowing all manufactures
build equipment to this standard and hence
it is possible to put a counting system
together using modules from more than one
manufacturer, rather like one can put
together a hi-fi system with a CD player
from one manufacturer, an amplifier from a
different one, and so on.
The Modular Counting System
• In addition, one can change a counting system
simply by adding or deleting the appropriate NIM
• Such modules are designated ‘single-width’,
‘double-width’, etc. according to the number of
slots they occupy in a NIM ‘bin’.
• The module except for the high voltage units,
are connected together by the use of standard
BNC cables, which are co-axial cables fitted with
BNC connectors.
• The industry standard for connections for high
voltage (> 1 kV) is now the supper high voltage
(SHV) connector.
The Components of Basic Modular
Counting System
• Four basic components required to
convert the signals from the detector into a
readable count, related to the radiation
intensity (disintegrations per unit time) are;
A high voltage supply
A pre-amplifier
An amplifier, and
A scale-timer unit
Some applications
• Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA)
NAA — General Principles

In typical NAA, stable nuclides (AZ, the target

nucleus) in the sample undergo neutron capture
reactions in a flux of (incident) neutrons. The
radioactive nuclides (A+1Z, the compound
nucleus) produced in this activation process will,
in most cases, decay through the emission of a
beta particle (ß-) and gamma ray(s) with a
unique half-life. A high-resolution gamma-ray
spectrometer is used to detect these "delayed"
gamma rays from the artificially induced
radioactivity in the sample for both qualitative
and quantitative analysis.
Sequence of events that occur during the most common type
of nuclear reaction used for activation analysis
An example of the gamma-ray spectrum from the activation of a human nail used
as a biological monitor of trace-element status is shown below. [Visit SeLevel
Testing Services to learn how you can test for your own selenium level.]
NAA — Analytical Signal

The energies of the delayed gamma rays are used to determine which
elements are present in the sample, and the number of gamma rays of
a specific energy is used to determine the amount of an element in the
sample. For example, when a sample that contains silver is irradiated,
a fraction of the 109Ag atoms in the sample will capture a neutron and
become 110Ag. The 110Ag atoms are radioactive and have a half-life of
24.6 seconds. When the 110Ag atoms beta decay to 110Cd, a 658 keV
gamma ray is emitted 4.5 % of the time. The amount of silver in the
original sample can be determined by measuring the number of 658
keV gamma-rays emitted from the sample in a given time interval after
the sample has been exposed to a flux of neutrons.
109Ag + n → 110Ag

110Ag → ß- + 110Cd + γ (658 keV)

NAA — Quantification

The measured count rate (R) of the gamma rays from the decay of a specific
isotope (110Ag) in the irradiated sample can be related to the amount (n) of the
original, stable isotope (109Ag) in the sample through the following equation (1):

R = ε Iγ A = ε Iγ n φ σ (1-e-λ ti) e-λ td

R = measured gamma-ray count rate (counts per second)
A = absolute activity of isotope A+1Z in sample
ε = absolute detector efficiency
Iγ = absolute gamma-ray abundance
n = number of atoms of isotope AZ in sample
φ = neutron flux (neutrons·cm-2·sec-1)
σ = neutron capture cross section (cm2) for isotope AZ
λ = radioactive decay constant (s-1) for isotope A+1Z
ti = irradiation time (s)
td = decay time (s)
NAA — Quantification

If the neutron flux φ, neutron capture cross section σ, absolute detector

efficiency ε,and absolute gamma-ray abundance Iγ are known, the number of
atoms n of isotope AZ in the sample can be calculated directly. In most cases,
however, a standard is irradiated and counted under similar conditions as the
sample, and the mass of the element in the sample (Wsam) is found by
comparing the measured count rates (R) for the sample and standard through
the following equation (2):

Wsam = mass of element in sample (g)
Wstd = mass of element in standard (g)
Rsam = gamma-ray count rate from the sample (counts per second)
Rstd = gamma-ray count rate from the standard (counts per second)