Geiger-Müller tube

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A Geiger–Müller tube (or GM tube) is the sensing element of a Geiger counter instrument that can detect a single particle of ionizing radiation, and typically produce an audible click for each. It was named for Hans Geiger who invented the device in 1908, and Walther Müller who collaborated with Geiger in developing it further in 1928.[1] It is a type of gaseous ionization detector with an operating voltage in the Geiger plateau.

The Geiger counter is sometimes used as a hardware random number generator.


Description and operation

A Geiger–Müller tube consists of a tube filled with a low-pressure (~0.1 Atm) inert gas such as helium, neon or argon (usually neon), in some cases in a Penning mixture, and an organic vapor or a halogen gas. The tube contains electrodes, between which there is a potential difference of several hundred volts, but no current flowing. The walls of the tube are either entirely metal or have their inside surface coated with a conductor to form the cathode while the anode is a wire passing up the center of the tube.

When ionizing radiation passes through the tube, some of the gas molecules are ionized, creating positively charged ions, and electrons. The strong electric field created by the tube's electrodes accelerates the ions towards the cathode and the electrons towards the anode. The ion pairs gain sufficient energy to ionize further gas molecules through collisions on the way, creating an avalanche of charged particles.

This results in a short, intense pulse of current which passes (or cascades) from the negative electrode to the positive electrode and is measured or counted.

Most detectors include an audio amplifier that produce an audible click on discharge. The number of pulses per second measures the intensity of the radiation field. Some Geiger counters display an exposure rate (e.g. mR·h), but this does not relate easily to a dose rate as the instrument does not discriminate between radiation of different energies.

GM tubes

The usual form of tube is an end-window tube. This type is so-named because the tube has a window at one end through which ionizing radiation can easily penetrate. The other end normally has the electrical connectors. There are two types of end-window tubes: the glass-mantle type and the mica window type. The glass window type will not detect alpha radiation since it is unable to penetrate the glass, but is usually cheaper and will usually detect beta radiation and X-rays. The mica window type will detect alpha radiation but is more fragile.

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