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Counts per Second – CPS

Detector of Ionizing Radiation - basic scheme
Detectors of ionizing radiation consist of two parts that are usually connected. The first part consists of sensitive material, consisting of a compound that experiences changes when exposed to radiation. The other component is a device that converts these changes into measurable signals.

A counter is one of three main types of detectors that record different types of signals. The activity or intensity of radiation is measured in counts per second (cps), which expresses a rate of counts per unit time registered by a radiation monitoring instrument. In general, commonly used quantities are:

  • counts per minute (cpm)
  • counts per second (cps) 

The best-known counter is the Geiger-Müller counter. In radiation counters, the generated signal from the incident radiation is created by counting the number of interactions occurring at the sensitive volume of the detector.

The unit of counts per second detected by a device is somehow proportional to the activity of a measured sample. But note that this proportionality is also determined by the distance between the detector and the sample and the detection efficiency.

What is one count

Let’s assume gaseous ionization detectors. A basic gaseous ionization detector consists of a chamber filled with a suitable medium (air or a special fill gas) that can be easily ionized. As a general rule, the center wire is the positive electrode (anode), and the outer cylinder is the negative electrode (cathode), so that (negative) electrons are attracted to the center wire. Positive ions are attracted to the outer cylinder. The anode is at a positive voltage for the detector wall. As ionizing radiation enters the gas between the electrodes, a finite number of ion pairs are formed. Under the influence of the electric field, the positive ions will move toward the negatively charged electrode (outer cylinder), and the negative ions (electrons) will migrate toward the positive electrode (central wire). Collecting these ions will produce a charge on the electrodes and an electrical pulse across the detection circuit. However, it is a small signal, and this signal can be amplified and then recorded as one count.


Radiation Protection:

  1. Knoll, Glenn F., Radiation Detection and Measurement 4th Edition, Wiley, 8/2010. ISBN-13: 978-0470131480.
  2. Stabin, Michael G., Radiation Protection, and Dosimetry: An Introduction to Health Physics, Springer, 10/2010. ISBN-13: 978-1441923912.
  3. Martin, James E., Physics for Radiation Protection 3rd Edition, Wiley-VCH, 4/2013. ISBN-13: 978-3527411764.
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, Instrumentation, and Control. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 2 of 2. June 1992.

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  7. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  8. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.
  9. Paul Reuss, Neutron Physics. EDP Sciences, 2008. ISBN: 978-2759800414.

See above: