Friday, February 19, 2021

SE International Radiation Alert Ranger - making "protective cap accessories".

One thing I really like about the design of the SE International Radiation Alert Ranger is the protective cap on the back for the "pancake" detector.

This cap is great to protect the delicate mica window from contamination and mechanical events that can destroy the detector.

I realized that this cap can easily be turned into a useful  "charged particle filter" or even a check-source.

I went ahead and ordered a few spare caps from SE International at $1.50 a piece.

The  assortment of "cap accessories I made - a check-source, an Alpha filter and an Alpha + Beta filter. The Alpha filter is used for Beta + Gamma measurements and the Alpha + Beta filter is used to measure Gamma only.
The "Alpha Filter" (the cap with the black insert) is made by cutting a disk of self-adhesive aluminum foil (thickness 0.1mm) and applying it on the inside of the cap. The foil in combination with the plastic of the cap will stop all alphas, while letting most betas come trough. 

For the "Alpha filter", thicker cooking foil can be used as well and attached with double-sided adhesive tape or glue.

The "Alpha + Beta" filter (gray) is made by cutting a disk out of aluminum. The disk is a tad small than 1" 3/4 and thickness is 3mm. This disk is secured inside the cap with a piece of double-sided adhesive tape.

The "Alpha" filter (top) is placed for measuring Beta + Gamma activity only. The "Alpha + Beta" filter (bottom) in addition shields all Betas up to 2 MeV and attenuates Gamma <7 % @662 keV (Cs-137)

For the "Alpha + Beta" filter, I cut the disk out of equipment rack blank panel. The aluminum of the blank is 3 mm thick which stops all beta particles with energy up to 2 MeV and has very low Gamma attenuation (less than 7%) for the Cs-137 isotope (662 keV).

Cutting a perfect, large (1" 3/4) disk out of 3mm aluminum is a bit of a chore but nothing that can't be solved by a drill press, a grinding wheel and a file.

As an alternative, pure 1 mm Pb sheet will stop betas up to 2.3 MeV and will attenuate Cs-137 gamma by 10%, Co-60 Gamma by 5% and not only the math is easier but it is much easier to cut than 3mm aluminum - one can use regular scissors for such thin lead sheet.
The plastic of the cap should slow down beta particles a bit perhaps reducing the generation of secondary X-Rays (from the Bremsstrahlung effect)
Inserts made out of other materials can be made to fit these protective caps - I'll be making another cap with a 3 mm thick lead sheet insert for measuring extremely high activity gamma sources (normally the Ranger overflows at 350K CPM). 
By calculating the attenuation factor of the lead in the cap, I can correct the measurements which will extend the maximum range of the instrument. For example 1/8" Lead (3.1mm) will attenuate Cs-137 Gamma rays by 28% and Co-60 by 14%

The Check-Source Cap using an epoxy sealed tiny piece of Autunite crystal.
The Autnite crystal is placed on a piece of aluminum foil in a drop of epoxy. Self-adhesive tape on top sandwiches the crystal between the foil and after trimming the foil it is attached on the inside of the cap with Kapton tape. The source produces around 600 CPM.

It is very important for the autunite crystal to be completely sealed in epoxy so no radon can escape and contaminate the mica window of the pancake detector.
I used NORM for the source for 2 reasons - I don't have to worry about half-life and changes of the activity over time and secondly, I wanted to have a very low activity check-source. The lowest activity Cs-137 I have at hand is 1 uCi so I went the NORM route instead.
Alternatively (and it would be even better), one can attach a Spectrum Technique sealed Cs-137 check-source disk on the inside of the cap - like 0.05 uCi or 0.1 uCi.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Ludlum GM Counter Calibration for accurate CPM rate using a Function Generator

I have a few Geiger counters (Ludlum and Eberline) with Analog Scales and wanted to make sure they are properly calibrated to display the CPM rate.

I am not interested in dose rates as they are more or less meaningless when working with NORM (Natural Occurring Radioactive Materials). These are a mixture of isotopes, each emitting different particles and gamma energies and a Geiger Counter cant provide an accurate estimate for the dose.

Geiger Counters are usually calibrated to display doses from a specific isotope - Cs-137 or Co-60, while I am interested in the activity of the samples so CPM rates are more important to me.

Ludlum makes their Model 500 Pulse Generator for this type of calibration but it is ridiculously priced (a used one sold on eBay for $2100) and after studying the schematics of this over-priced monstrosity (which seemed designed at least 20-30 years ago) , I concluded that using a modern Function Generator in Pulse mode will do the job even better - more accurately, while providing identical functionality.

 This is my setup for the CPM calibration of Geiger Counters with an Analog Scale. The Function Generator simulates the GM tube inside the detector probe.

I setup my Function Generator (Rigol Technologies DG1022Z) with almost the same parameter pulses the Ludlum 500 produces.

Leading edge is set to 300 ns, Pulse width is 4 μs and trailing edge 2.25 μs. (Ludlum's pulser actually has a trailing edge of the pulses at 5 μs due to their circuit - I made my pulses wider and more defined with a steeper trailing edge but this is fully adjustable).
GM tubes in general produce very short pulses as they are quenched by the halogen gas in the tube so they can reset for the next count.

The shape of an individual pulse

Pulses with period 2ms (500.0 Hz) or 30K CPM. The scope is set to 1ms/div.

Amplitude is set for 500 mVpp and the Generator output is inverted - GM tubes produce negative polarity pulses as the gas discharge just shunts the HV DC tube bias. The amplitude adjustment can be varied to calibrate the pulse height threshold of the instrument.

To block the DC bias and inject the pulses, simulating a GM tube with my generator, I inserted a HV blocking capacitor inline - this protects the output of the generator form the 900V DC bias generated by the Ludlum meter.
At some point I'll make a little enclosure with tap points for oscilloscope and a high-voltage voltmeter.

I had some 10nF / 3 kV caps at hand and used two in series for 5nF / 6kV. Alternatively 5.6 nF/ 3kV cap will work just as well - the rating must be at least 3kV or more.
Everything is insulated to avoid a short that can damage my generator. Two Female BNC connectors are used to connect both cables thru the capacitor.

The calibration procedure is super-simple - I select a scale on the Ludlum, dial the frequency on the generator and adjust the calibration trimmer-pot for this range until I get the correct reading.
The generator frequency, Freq = CPM (desired rate, usually in the middle of the scale) / 60.
In the picture 500.0 Hz are used to generate a pulse rate of 30 000 CPM (3K in the x10 scale).

Full scale deflection on the x10 range is checked with 1.0 kHz signal for 60 000 CPM and it is dead on.

At the x1 scale, 50.0 Hz from the Generator should result in exactly 3000 CPM reading. The x1 trim-pot is adjusted to match the needle if reading is off.

Full deflection at the x1 range is then confirmed with 100.0 Hz signal

Each range is adjusted individually in the same manner - most meters have independent trimmer-pots. 

Here is a video of the Ludlum Model 14C counter driven with 600 CPM (Scale x0.1) - 10.000 Hz from the generator.

For slower rates, like the x0.1 scale, the Ludlum should be placed on SLOW mode to average and smooth out the reading. For the higher rates FAST mode can be used just as well and the reading is stable immediately.

Basically, it cost me nothing to put together this calibration setup - if I am to count the cost of the generator - it is still a "mere" $400 - not even 1/4 of the price of Ludlum 500 pulser.
The time-base of the generator has an excellent stability (1ppm) and it is many times more accurate than the Ludlum's voltage-to-frequency converter used in their circuit. Amplitude can be finely adjusted as well so one can align the counter's pre-amp sensitivity threshold.

This calibration method yields a for very accurate CPM rates and the reading can be adjusted with a pin-point precision on the scale.

Disclaimer: This method will not be applicable for Dose rate calibrations (the efficiency of the detector at certain gamma energies can not be measured without an actual gamma source) but it can be used to determine the calibration conversion constant for an instrument, already calibrated for the correct dose.
The generator just simulates a GM tube and each pulse produced will be correctly counted over time by the counter as the rate is known, fixed and super-stable.
The electronics are calibrated to ensure that the count rate is accurately displayed on the analog scale of the meter but how the detector generates pulses based on exposure to gamma rays or charged particles is not factored - it is assumed that each charged particle in the volume of the detector tube will result in a pulse.