Geiger Counter vs. Scintillator

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Geiger counters are an indispensable tool for any scientist, professional or amateur (like me). The Geiger counter can detect radiation quickly and effectively. They are also relatively cheap, ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (most are under $1,000). Geiger counters have varying abilities and detect different particles and energy levels of those particles with differing levels of efficiency. By far, beta radiation is detected the best with many tubes detecting 2 to 4 out of ten particles which hit them. Alpha radiation is a bit lower, with many tubes totally blind to them and those which are not only detecting 5 to 10 particles per every 100. Gamma and X-ray radiation is the lowest for Geiger counters, where often between 1 and 3 photons are detected per 100.

Pros — Cheap, easy to use, portable, can detect alpha, beta, gamma, and x-ray.

Cons — Cannot determine isotope (fact), cannot determine energies, very low gamma and x-ray efficiency.

Scintillation counters are the tools of the professional nuclear scientist. Scintillation counters exist for gamma, x-ray, beta, and alpha radiation (a specific unit for each). When used with a multi channel spectrum analyzer, the counter can identify isotopes by their energies. Some Gamma spectrometers can even be used for complex gamma recoil analysis (mossbaur spectroscopy) which aid in determining the molecular bonds of various atoms, such as iron. Crystal sicntillators may cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, while a multi channel spectrum analyzer to attach to one is at least a few thousand more. This means an entry level lab-grade unit (like mine) will set you back about $5000. Very powerful soil state units, like those used at universities, can be well beyond $10,000 and even as much as a million dollars. A good High Purity Germanium (HPGe) is at least $10k. These detectors may be used without a multi channel spectrum analyzer, but they only count at that point. Hobbyists have created multi channel spectrum analyzer’s for under 1,000 dollars.

Pros — Can identify isotopes, measures energies, very sensitive to gamma rays (for gamma sicntillators), can probe hyperfine molecular bonds.

Cons — Expensive ($1000 and up), complex, requires extensive skill (physics), portable units are often very expensive.


Great MCA+Scintillator for entry lab-grade use. This is what I use:

Small and portable scintillation devices (mega pricy)

A really great Geiger counter (Inspector EXP+)

Probably the best Scintillation video ever made

What’s in your rain?

I detect the potassium in a single banana… GM can’t do this. =)

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