How to make a Geiger counter

Updated 3/22/11 with additional drawings and descriptions.

The Japanese nuclear crisis has left Geiger counters in short supply.  The New York Times is reporting that at least one supplier of Geiger counters has not been able to meet the demand which has primarily come from consumers.

So, how is a Geiger counter made? There are several designs for Geiger counters. However, a Geiger Mueller tube or some other Geiger Mueller device like a Geiger Mueller pancake detector is required. Construction of Geiger Mueller tubes are likely outside of the skill of most people because the constructing the tube involves the preparation of a wired tube with gases such as argon.  United States Patent No. 2,427,663 to Mateosian teaches the construction of a Geiger tube. (below, click to enlarge) However, if a tube can be acquired the remaining components are more readily obtainable.

Mateosian Geiger Mueller Tube

Mateosian Geiger Mueller Tube

Another example of a tube for a Geiger counter is found in United States Patent No. 3,903,444 to Lawrence Tessler of Dayton, Ohio. (below, click to enlarge)  The pieces of the tube have been annotated to understand the makeup of the tube.

Tessler Geiger Meuller Tube

Tessler Geiger Meuller Tube

The Tessler patent is entitled “Glass Anode Geiger-Muller Tube” and teaches a central tubular glass anode that is coated with stannic oxide and surrounded by a platinum iridium cathode.  The gas that separates the anode and the cathode is preferably a mixture of neon, argon and bromine.

Both tubes and Geiger counters are typically available from Canberra. Examples of Geiger counter wiring can be found at instructables.com which includes a link to a wiring drawing.  While certain wiring examples are fairly simplistic, they should not be attempted by those without any wiring experience because of the high voltages needed by the Geiger tubes.

United States Patent No. 2,833,982 issued to James Constable of White Plains, NY shows an example of how a Geiger-Mueller Tube can be wired to make a functioning Geiger counter. (below, click to enlarge)

Constable Geiger counter wiring diagram

Constable Geiger counter wiring diagram

A great historical view of Geiger counters from the past is available at the National Radiation Instrument Catalog which even includes examples of children’s toys that contain radioactive materials.