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Scintillation counter

A scintillation counter measures ionizing radiation. The sensor, called a scintillator, consists of a transparent crystal, usually phosphor, plastic (usually containing anthracene), or organic liquid (see liquid scintillation counting) that fluoresces when struck by ionizing radiation. A sensitive photomultiplier tube (PMT) measures the light from the crystal. The PMT is attached to an electronic amplifier and other electronic equipment to count and possibly quantify the amplitude of the signals produced by the photomultiplier.

Additional recommended knowledge

The scintillation counter is based on the work of Antoine Henri Becquerel, who discovered the phosphorescence of certain uranium salts. Scintillation counters are widely used because they can be made inexpensively yet with good quantum efficiency. The quantum efficiency of a gamma-ray detector (per unit volume) depends upon the density of electrons in the detector, and certain scintillating materials, such as sodium iodide and bismuth germanate, achieve high electron densities as a result of the high atomic numbers of some of the elements of which they are composed. However, detectors based on semiconductors, notably hyperpure germanium, have better intrinsic energy resolution than scintillators, and are preferred where feasible for gamma-ray spectrometry. In the case of neutron detectors, high efficiency is gained through the use of scintillating materials rich in hydrogen that scatter neutrons efficiently. Liquid scintillation counters are an efficient and practical means of quantifying beta radiation.

Scintillation counter as a spectrometer

Scintillators often convert a single photon of high energy radiation into high number of lower-energy photons, where the number of photons per megaelectronvolt of input energy is fairly constant. By measuring the intensity of the flash (the number of the photons produced by the x-ray or gamma photon) it is therefore possible to discern the original photon's energy.

The spectrometer consists of a suitable scintillator crystal, a photomultiplier tube, and a circuit for measuring the height of the pulses produced by the photomultiplier. The pulses are counted and sorted by their height, producing a x-y plot of scintillator flash brightness vs number of the flashes, which approximates the energy spectrum of the incident radiation, with some additional artifacts. A monochromatic gamma radiation produces a photopeak at its energy. The detector also shows response at the lower energies, caused by Compton scattering, two smaller escape peaks at energies 0.511 and 1.022 MeV below the photopeak for the creation of electron-positron pairs when one or both annihilation photons escape, and a backscatter peak. Higher energies can be measured when two or more photons strike the detector almost simultaneously (pile-up, within the time resolution of the DAQ chain), appearing as sum peaks with energies up to the value of two or more photopeaks added. See [1]


  • Knoll, Glenn (1999). Radiation Detection and Measurement. John Wiley and Sons. ISBN 0-471-07338-5. 
  • Photomultiplier Tubes and Assemblies for Scintillation Counting and High Energy Physics Hamamatsu Photonics

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Scintillation_counter". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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