Detecting radiation

Human senses cannot detect alpha, beta or gamma radiation, so we need equipment to do this.

Photographic film

Photographic film goes darker when it absorbs radiation, just like it does when it absorbs visible light. The more radiation the film absorbs, the darker it is when it is developed.

People who work with radiation wear film badges, which are checked regularly to monitor the levels of radiation absorbed. The diagram shows a typical radiation badge when it is closed and what the inside looks like when it is opened.

A radiation badge consisting of photographic film sealed in lightproof plastic. The outer casing has windows made of various materials which allow different levels of radioactive penetration.A typical radiation badge

There is a lightproof packet of photographic film inside the badge. The more radiation this absorbs, the darker it becomes when it is developed.

To get an accurate measure of the dose received, the badge contains different materials that the radiation must penetrate to reach the film. These materials may include aluminium, copper, lead-tin alloy and plastic. There is also an open area at the centre of the badge.

Geiger-Muller tube

The Geiger-Muller tube detects radiation. Each time it absorbs radiation, it transmits an electrical pulse to a counting machine. This makes a clicking sound or displays the count rate. The greater the frequency of clicks, or the higher the count rate, the more radiation the Geiger-Muller tube is absorbing.