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Interaction of Radiation with Matter

K.L. Ramakumar

Presentation to College Students

KL Ramakumar 1
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

How do you define wind?
Air in motion is called wind
Who has seen the radiations?
Neither I nor you!
We will have the answer at the end of this presentation
KL Ramakumar 2
The term “radiation” in nuclear science
refers to all those particles/
electromagnetic radiations emitted as a
result of nuclear reactions including
radioactive decay. These include charged,
neutral, and electromagnetic radiations.

We will discuss interaction of radiation

emitted from radioactive nuclei

KL Ramakumar 3
Interaction of Radiation with Matter
Interaction: Process or phenomenon resulting
when Radiation passes through Matter
Corpuscular Electromagnetic

Charged Neutral

Li h
Light H
Heavy Li h
Light H

e.g. electron e.g. proton e.g. neutrino e.g. neutron

Matter: Solid Liquid Gas X-rays -rays

KL Ramakumar 4
Why Interaction?
What is the consequence?

Study of processes of interaction helps in

id tif i th
identifying the nature
t of
f radiation,
di ti it
its energy

Helps in deciding the shielding materials

Effectiveness of the medium
its response to the incident radiation
its ability to absorb energy

KL Ramakumar 5
Rutherford's alpha scattering
experiments During 1909
Metal box was evacuated to
minimize alpha loss by scattering
molecules The  source
from air molecules. M t l box
Metal b
was 226Ra (to be precise, its decay
product 222Rn) at R.
p g placed
p at D acted as
collimator to direct a beam of 
Rutherford Gold foil
particles normally on to the
experiment apparatus
scattering foil F.

By rotating the microscope [M] the alpha particles scattered in different

directions could be observed on the screen S. (Possible with dark-
p eyes.)
y ) Two daysy later there was real excitement.

“We have been able to get some of the alpha-particles coming

backward … (1 in 8000). It was quite the most incredible event that ever
happened to me in my life.
life It was almost as incredible as if you fired a
15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.”
KL Ramakumar 6
Back scattered alphas

Appreciating “back scattering” of alpha

particles in Rutherford Gold foil experiment
p p

KL Ramakumar 7
Why study interaction?
Rutherford’s Gold foil experiment

Through interactions of 
particles with the matter in the
gold foil, elucidation of atomic
structure became possible

Ernest Rutherford, first baron (1871 - 1937)
Rutherford had established a new branch of physics called
radioactivity. His work on radioactive decay won him the
1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
He also established the nuclear theory of the atom. In 1919,
he announced his success in the artificially disintegration of
an atom.
KL Ramakumar 8
We will understand Interaction of

 particles
 rays
fission fragments

in gaseous medium

KL Ramakumar 9
Example of  particle interaction in gaseous medium
 particle : 4He2+ Energy in MeV range
Massive alpha particles travel almost straight paths
li ibl momentum transfer
f in i each
h collision
lli i with
i h tiny
electron in the gaseous molecule)
Gaseous atoms along the path will get ionised
Energy of  particle goes on reducing (ultimately it
p and gets
g neutralized becoming
g He atom))
Interactions of all types
of radiations ultimately
lead to production of ion
pairs through loss of
Ionisation of gaseous
 Particles Medium species along the path
KL Ramakumar 10
What happens during interaction of radiations?
Interaction results in
Dissociation of molecules of the medium
Excitation and ionisation of molecules or atoms
of the medium
Energy of the radiation is reduced
About 35 eV of energy is spent by the radiation to
generate an ion pair in the medium.
Energy of  particle No. ion pairs produced
5 MeV 5x106 1.4x105
gy required
q per
p ion pair
p is independent
p of energy
and type of radiation and also of the medium
KL Ramakumar 11
Interaction of Charged Particles

Interactions with matter are due primarily

to coulomb forces

The net outcome is the reduction in

the kinetic energy of the
particle/radiation during interaction
ultimately resulting in either
complete absorption of radiation or
stopping of the particle and its
charge neutralization.

KL Ramakumar 12
Interaction processes : excitation,
ionization, scattering and various types of
radiative losses of energy
On an average, approximately 34 electron
lt off energy is
i lost
l t for
f each
h primary
i i
pair formed in air. This is more or less
p of nature of charged
g particle
Only about half to two-thirds of this energy
is actually required to remove the orbital
electron, the balance being lost in
electronic excitation processes

KL Ramakumar 13
Average energy lost by the incident radiation/particle
in a gaseous medium
(W value: eV/ion pair)
Medium Electron  particle
Ar 27 0
27.0 25 9
He 32.5 31.7
H2 38.0 37.0
N2 35.8 36.0
O2 32.2 32.2
Air 35.0 35.2
CH4 30.2 29.0

KL Ramakumar 14
The mechanisms by which a charged particle loses
it kinetic
its ki ti energy, or deflected
d fl t d from
f it original
its i i l path,
involve four principal types of interaction.

Inelastic Collision with Bound Atomic Electrons

Predominant mechanism by which a charged particle
loses its kinetic energy in an absorber.
As a result of each collision, one or more atomic
electrons experience a transition to an excited state
(excitation) or to an unbound state (ionization).

Inelastic Collision with a Nucleus

In a close encounter with a nucleus, the incident
charged particle experiences a deflection. In some
such deflections, if the energy of the particle is near
the relativistic range, a quantum of radiation
(bremsstrahlung) is emitted, and a corresponding
amount of kinetic energy is lost by the incident
KL Ramakumar 15
Elastic Collision with a Nucleus
In elastic nuclear scattering the incident particle is
deflected but does not radiate, nor does it excite the
nucleus. The incident particle loses only the kinetic
energy requiredi d for
f conservation
ti off momentumt
between the two particles. Incident electrons have a
high probability of experiencing nuclear elastic

Elastic Collision with Atomic Electrons

An incident charged particle may be elastically
deflected in the field of atomic electrons of an atom.
Energy and momentum are conserved, and the
gy transfer is less than the lowest excitation
potential of the electrons, so that the interaction is
really with the atom as a whole. Such interactions
are significant only for the case of very low energy
(<100 eV) incident electron.
KL Ramakumar 16
It should be clearly understood that in an absorbing
material, a moving charged particle is slowed down
and finally brought to rest by the combined action of
all four of these elastic and inelastic processes.

Which type of interaction, if any, will occur when a

charged particle passes a particular atom is
described only by the laws of chance/probability.

The statistical average of the effect of all the

collisions is what is obtained by direct experiment
and is more convenience to interpret the gross

KL Ramakumar 17
Interaction of Heavy Charged Particles (e.g. Alpha
Particles) with Matter

Less complicated than the interaction of light charged

particles e.g.
e g electrons

Elastic nuclear scattering and bremsstrahlung are

g y negligible.
g g

Alpha collisions may result in energy transfer by (1)

ionization and/or (2) excitation.

Finite amount of energy is required to ionize or excite

an atom

Kinetic energy of the alpha particle is gradually

dissipated by such interactions until it captures two
electrons and settles down to a quiet existence as a
helium atom.
KL Ramakumar 18
Important parameters in interaction of radiation with
S Stopping power of the medium
Specific ionisation in the medium
Rate of energy loss in the medium

S =  dE Energy loss/unit length


S  (charge)2 of the ion

 1 velocity of the ion 1 1
= E
v2 v2
 N Number density of the medium
 Z Z Atomic number of the medium
KL Ramakumar 19
Bethe’s expression for energy loss (stopping power)
i given
is i By

2m v2
S = dE = 4πe z NZ ln 0
4 2
dx m v2 I

where I geometric mean of all ionization and

excitation potentials of the absorbing atom. When
the velocityy of the incident particles
p is in the
relativistic range (V = c, c is the velocity of light),
Bethe’s formula becomes

dE 4πe 4z2

2m v2 

S= = NZ ln 0 ln(1 ) 
2 2
dx m v2 
 I 

0  

KL Ramakumar 20
Expression for the stopping power of a medium

dE 4πe 4z2 2m v2
S= = NZ ln 0
dx m v2 I
Hans Bethe (1906 - 2005)

Hans Bethe
H h servedd as the
h chief
h f off the
h theoretical
h l division
for the Manhattan Project. At the end of the Second
World War, Bethe, along with Edward Teller, worked on
the development of the hydrogen bomb.
In 1967 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for
research in the nuclear reactions in stars.

KL Ramakumar 21
Usefulness of stopping power equation

- dE
d α z2 - dE
d α 1 =1
dx dx v2 E
For th
F the same velocity
l it andd charge
h off the
incident radiation, stopping power is same
1H+ 2H+ 3H+ Same charge (z = 1)
If velocity is also same, then  dE is same
Alpha particle (He2+), charge z = 2 Proton (H+) z = 1
If velocities of alpha and proton are same then

- dE α z2  dE   4  - dE 
= (22) = 4
dx  dx α  dx

H 
Alphas lose energy 4 times faster than protons if
both have same velocity
KL Ramakumar 22
Usefulness of stopping power equation

- dE α z 2 - dE α 12 = 1
dx dx v E
Combining both

- dE z
α 2
- dE .v 2 α z 2
dx v dx

Multiplying both sides by ½ m

- dE 1
. mv α m z
2 1 2 1
mv 2 is kinetic energy E
dx 2 2 2

- dE . E α 1 mz 2 Particle identifier
p pprinciple
dx 2

KL Ramakumar 23
Particle identifier detectors

R di ti
Total absorption
Transmission detector
Detector to measure - dE
Total energy (E) is obtained from sum of the
signals from the two detectors

- dE Can be calculated from the signal obtained

in the transmission detector
- dE . E α 1 mz 2 Particle can be identified
dx 2
KL Ramakumar 24
Particle identifier detectors

- dE 1
. E α mz 2 dE E
-2 . 2 α m
dx 2 dx z

For the same energy and charge on the ion, the

stopping power is proportional to mass of the
incident particle
14N  2.49 MeV.cm2 / mg

15O 
 in aluminium
80 MeV 3.32 MeV.cm2 / mg
16O   absorber
3.46 / mg

Using particle identifier detectors

Isotopes identified up to z < 10
Elements identified up to z < 50
KL Ramakumar 25

Inversely related to the stopping power of the

absorber is the range (R) of the charged particle.

The concept of range only has meaning for charged

particles whose energy is kinetic energy which is lost
continuously along their path.

The range of a charged particle in an absorber is the

g depth
p of p
penetration of the chargedg particle
into the absorber before it loses all its kinetic energy
and stops.

If a particle has a high range, the absorber has a low

stopping power. If the particle has a short range, the
absorber has a high stopping power.

KL Ramakumar 26
Range of alpha particles in a medium
After the complete loss of energy in the medium, the
charged particle picks up electrons and gets
The distance travelled in the medium up to the
stopping is called range extrapolated
range Re

No.. particles
Mean range

Alpha particles are monoenergetic ions
Collisions in the medium and rate of energy
transfer are purely statistical
Distribution of ranges occur - Straggling
KL Ramakumar 27
Bragg curve for
t off energy loss.

Bethe s expression for

energy loss

2m v2
S = dE = 4πe z NZ
4 2
N lnl 0
dx m v2 I
It can be seen from the above expression that the stopping
power is greatest for high-density, high-Z materials, and for
ions in higher charge states. Shown above is a sketch of
gg Curve for the rate of energy gy loss. As the charged
particle losses its energy, the stopping power increases. At
the end of its path, the stopping power is the highest. Thus,
along the path, the ion-pair density is the highest at the
path end.
KL Ramakumar 28
6600 ion pairs/mm

2759 ion pairs/mm


3 Residual range, cm air 0

Relative ionisation due to charged

g p

KL Ramakumar 29
Sir William Henry Bragg OM,OM KBE (2 July 1862 – 10 March 1942)
was a British physicist and chemist who uniquely shared the Nobel
Prize in Physics with his son, William Lawrence Bragg, in 1915 for x-
ray diffraction phenomenon.

Prior to this he was also involved in the study of energy loss of

ionising radiation. The Bragg curve plots the energy loss of ionizing
radiation duringg its travel through
g matter. For pprotons,, α-rays,
y , and
other , there is a pronounced peak in the curve immediately before the
particles come to rest. This is called Bragg peak, for William Henry
Bragg who discovered it in 1903.
Sir William
Henry Bragg
1862 - 1942

KL Ramakumar 30
For a given energy E of the charged particle, range
can be
b expressedd as
R a E 2

a is a constant depends on the medium

m and z are mass and charge of the charged particle.

Range is usually expressed in centimeters or cm x

density =

In air, for example, the range (Ra) is empirically

given as
Ra = 0.318
0 318 E3/2

at 1 atmosphere
p and 150C and E = Energy
gy in MeV.

KL Ramakumar 31
KL Ramakumar 32
End of path
Interaction of Light Charged
P ti l
Particles (e.g.
( Electrons)
El t )
with Matter

Mass of an electron or beta

electron particle is about 1/1800 that of a

Particles with mass comparable to those of electrons are

light charged particles.
particles Newtonian physics applied to
estimate the velocity of high-energy electrons gives
velocities larger than that of light, the limiting speed. Thus,
Einstein s theory of relativity must be applied.
applied A simple
method in agreement with the theory of relativity is to
consider the relative mass as the sum of rest mass and
kinetic energy,
gy, ((0.51 + Ek)) MeV,m
, = ((0.51 + Ek)) MeV. The
velocity of the electron is then v = (1 - 0.51/m)1/2c.
KL Ramakumar 33
For a given kinetic energy, the velocity of an electron will be
l t 2000 times
ti that
th t off a proton
t and
d about
b t 8000 times
that of an alpha particle. For non-relativistic velocities of
electrons, Bethe’s formula for energy loss for electrons is
given by
m v2
S = dE = 4πe z NZ ln 0
4 2
dx m v2 2I
Rate of energy loss or specific ionization caused by the
passage of electrons in a medium is therefore substantially
less The number of ion pairs produced per unit distance
traveled is also less.
There is another important consideration. The mass of the
electron is same as that of the atomic electrons in the
medium. Further unlike the mono-energetic nature of alpha
particles being emitted from a source, the energy spectrum
of beta pparticles is continuous with a maximum limiting g
KL Ramakumar 34
Hence, the interaction of electrons in a medium is
characterised by

(1) non-linear or tortuous paths unlike in the case of alpha

(2) Larger deviations from the path,
(3) Larger fraction of energy transfer per interaction,
((4)) sever straggling,
gg g
(5) enormous scattering, and
(6) even back scattering from the incident surface of the

Because of these larger deviations and larger scattering the

ranges for beta particles are poorly defined due to
enormous range straggling,
straggling low intensities for a given
thickness in the medium.

KL Ramakumar 35
Path length = S
(Entry to end of Path)
Range = R Linear distance
Path length > Range

KL Ramakumar 36
M h i off Interaction
I t ti Between
B t Electrons
El t
and Matter

Ionization, bremsstrahlung radiation, and annihilation with

positrons are the three mechanisms by which electrons lose
energy in a medium.

Coulomb interactions between fast moving electrons and

molecular electrons excite and ionize the molecule,,
producing ion pairs like in the case of heavy charged
particles. In the case of positrons, the annihilation with
electrons is another mechanism of interaction which results
in conversion of the total mass of the electron positron pair
into energy in the form of photons.

KL Ramakumar 37
When a fast-moving electron is accelerated or
decelerated when passing through the field of
atomic nuclei, a photon is emitted, and such
photons are called bremsstrahlung radiation.
Acceleration produced by a nucleus of charge Ze
and mass M on a p particle of charge
g ze and mass m
is proportional to MZze2/m.
Intensity is proportional to (acceleration)2 x (ze)2 =
(MZze2/m)2 x (ze)2 = M2Z2z4e6/m2

2 2 4 6
Bremsstrahlung intensity  M Z z e
Energy emitted by an accelerated particle is
proportional to 1/m2. Bremsstrahlung is
therefore significant
g for light
g p
particles such
as electrons.
KL Ramakumar 38
Energy loss in electron interaction

Total energy loss in the case of electron interaction

in the medium mainly consists of two components
coulombic and radiative due to bremsstrahlung:
     

dE  dE  dE

dx  dx c dx r






In any medium, it can be assumed

(dE/dx)r EZ

(dE/dx)c 800
E is in MeV and Z is the atomic number of the
medium. Radiative losses are more for a given
energy of an electron in high Z elements (e.g. lead)
than in low Z elements (e.g. Al). For attenuation of
electrons therefore lead is not suitable.

KL Ramakumar 39
Bremsstrahlung radiation
Bremsstrahlung radiation is a German word for breaking radiation. In
the vicinity of an electric field being generated by the atomic nuclei, the
acceleration off ppassingg electrons changes
g substantially,
y, which results in
change in the kinetic energy of the electrons. This change (break) in
kinetic energy is manifested as electromagnetic radiation called
Bremsstrahlung radiation.

Synchrotron radiation
If the change in the acceleration of electrons is due to the presence of
magnetic field,
f ld then
h alsol electromagnetic
l radiation
d is emitted.
d This
Th is
called synchrotron radiation.

KL Ramakumar 40
Bremsstrahlung radiation and discovery of μ meson

μ meson owes its discovery due to clear understanding of Bremsstrahlung

radiation observed in cosmic ray interactions. As mentioned, total
Bremsstrahlung intensity varies inversely as the square of the mass of the
i id
incident particle.
i l Heavier
H i particles i l therefore
h f show
h almost
l negligible
li ibl
Bremsstrahlung. The μ meson was at first thought to be an electron in cosmic
rays. But the radiative losses of its energy were far too small for an electron.
Subsequently μ meson was found to have a rest mass about 207m0. This
would mean its radiative losses are about 40,000 times smaller than the losses
of an electron of the same velocity. This was indeed the case.

KL Ramakumar 41
Range-Energy Relations for Mono-energetic

Exact calculation of the range of electrons is not possible

due to multiple scattering. Straggling is predominant in the
case of electrons due to very low mass as shown in Fig. 5.
Important observations are:
1. Final p
portion of the curve is because of straggling
gg g
2. Transmission dose not become zero due to  rays
3. Shape of the curve depends on the experimental
Concave shape toward the origin results if (1) detection is
by electron counting, (2) low-Z elements are used as
absorbers,, and ((3)) collimating
g slit system
y allows electrons
which have been deflected by 30o or less to be counted
Convex shape toward the origin results if (1) detection is by
an ionization chamber
chamber, (2) high-Z
high Z elements are used as
absorbers, and (3) narrow collimation is employed.
KL Ramakumar 42
a s ss o cucurve
e for
o Absorption
bso pt o oof e
ect o s
electrons of continuous energy

KL Ramakumar 43
Unlike in the case of heavy charged particles, the
determination of Rm for  particles is not easy. Feather
method of evaluating the maximum range for  particles is
widely used. This can easily be adopted for laboratory

See the next slide for explanation

KL Ramakumar 44
Feather’s method for evaluating the maximum range Rm of
 rays

In this method, one compares the absorption curve whose

end point Rm is to be determined with that of a well-
established standard (Bi-210 or better P-32). The two
curves are normalized to the same initial value on a plot of
logarithmic transmission against absorber thickness. The
range of the standard curve is divided into N equal parts.
These parts are designated as Rns and the end point which
has been well established is marked Rm0. The fractional
transmission corresponding to these absorber thicknesses
is marked on the standard curve. Points corresponding to
the same relative transmission are now marked on the
unknown curve. The absorber thickness corresponding to
these transmission values is now marked on the scale of
absorber thickness for the unknown and is designated as
Rnu .A graph of (N/n) Rnx as a function of n is plotted and
the extrapolated intercept of the curve with n = N axis
i Rm.

KL Ramakumar 45
Interaction of Electromagnetic radiations with
Gamma or X-rays do not carry an electric charge and
pass through a large number of atoms without any
interaction taking place.

Kinds of interaction Types of interaction

Interaction with atomic

1 A Complete
C l absorption
b i

Elastic scattering
2 Interaction with nucleons B
Interaction with the electric
Inelastic scattering
3 field surrounding the nuclei C
or electrons
Interaction with the meson
field surrounding nucleons

KL Ramakumar 46
Thus there are 12 different processes by which  rays can
interact with matter. But there are only three major
processes on interaction (see previous slide). These are the
photoelectric effect (1A), the Compton effect (1C), and pair
d ti (3A)

Photoelectric Effect (Photoelectric absorption)

In this interaction the energy of the x-ray or gamma ray

is completely transferred to an atomic electron which is
ejected from its atom.
atom The x-ray
x ray or gamma-ray
gamma ray no longer
exists after the collision. The process of photoelectric


The process of photoelectric absorption

KL Ramakumar 47
Photoelectric absorption

Incident photon is completely absorbed by an atom in

the absorber material, and one of the atomic electrons is
ejected. This ejected electron is known as a photoelectron.
The electron must be bound to the atom, to conserve
energy and momentum. The kinetic energy of the
photoelectron is g
p given byy
Te = E - Be

where Be is the binding energy of the atomic electron.

The vacancy left in the atomic structure by the ejected

electron is filled by
y one of the electrons from a higher
g shell.
This transition is accompanied by an emission of an X-ray.
These X-rays are also absorbed by the detector

KL Ramakumar 48
Photoelectric absorption

Photoelectric absorption is the most favourable process

for the -ray spectroscopist, since the incident photon
deposits all of its energy into the detector,
detector but it is only
dominant for low energy photons (≤ 200 keV). The
interaction is again dependent upon Z, and an
approximate expression for the absorption probability ()
 Z

Here n is normally between 4 and 5 depending on the

absorber material. This dependence on Z explains the
choice of high-Z materials such as lead for shielding

KL Ramakumar 49
Compton Effect (Compton scattering)
The x-ray or gamma-ray loses only part of its energy in its
interaction with an atomic electron. The electron is ejected
from its atom. The x-ray or gamma-ray of reduced energy
and the electron fly off in different directions.

E Ē

The p
process of Compton
p scattering
An incident  ray scatters from an outer shell electron in
the absorber material at an angle , and some of the  ray
energy is imparted to the electron.
electron Conservation of energy
and momentum leads us to the following expression for the
energy of the scattered photon:
_ E
1  (E /m0c2)(1 cos )
KL Ramakumar 50
Compton started a study of X-ray scattering. This led, in 1922, to
his discovery of the increase of wavelength of X-rays due to
i off the
h incident
i id radiation
di i by b free
f electrons,
l which
hi h
implies that the scattered quanta have less energy than the
quanta of the original beam. This effect, nowadays known as the
Compton effect clearly illustrates the particle concept of
electromagnetic radiation., For this discovery, Compton was
awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1927 (sharing this with
Arthur Holly
C. T. R. Wilson who received the Prize for his discovery of the
(1892 - 1962) cloud chamber method).

KL Ramakumar 51
Compton scattering

The kinetic energy of the electron after the collision is

given by
E(1 cos )
Te  E E 
m0c2  E(1 cos )

•All scatteringg angles

g are ppossible.
•Scattered electron energy ranges from zero for  = 00 to
2Ē /(m0c2 + 2E) for  = 1800
•The photon never loses the whole of its energy in any one

The scattered photon can then continue through the

absorber and interact again or scatter out of the absorber
material completely. This process, where the scattered
photon escapes, is very important for the -ray

KL Ramakumar 52
Compton scattering

If the full energy of the incident photon is not

absorbed in the detector, then there is a continuous
b k
background d in
i the
th energy spectrum,
t k
known as the
Compton continuum. This continuum extends up to
an energy corresponding to the maximum energy
transfer where there is a sharp cut-off
transfer, cut off point,
point known
as the Compton edge. Compton scattering is the
most probable process for photons in the
intermediate energy range and the probability
decreases rapidly with increasing energy. The
probability is also dependent on the number of
electrons available for the p
photon to scatter from,,
and hence increases with increasing Z.

An approximate expression for the Compton

scattering probability  is given by   Z/E

KL Ramakumar 53
Pair production

The third important -ray interaction

511 KeV

511 KeV
E e+


The process of pair production /annihilation

If the incident photon energy is greater than 1.022 MeV

(twice the electron rest mass) in the presence of an atomic
nucleus an electron/positron pair can be produced.

The presence of atomic nucleus is necessary for momentum


KL Ramakumar 54
Pair production

Pair production is also possible in the field of an atomic

For the conservation of momentum,
momentum however,
however the minimum
photon energy should be 4m0c2 = 2.04 MeV.
This is referred to as triplet production (one positron and
two electrons). Kinetic energy of one of the electrons is
usually lower than the other two particles.
The ratio of triplets to pairs strongly depends on the energy
of incident photon. Higher the energy, larger is the ratio.
For a given energy of the photon, this ratio decreases as
the atomic number of the absorbing medium increases.

Thus triple production is rare in natural circumstances but

becomes significant at very high energies of photons (>
100 MeV) in low Z absorbers.
KL Ramakumar 55
Pair production

Residual energy beyond 1.02 MeV is distributed evenly

between the electron and positron as kinetic energy.
As the p positron slows to thermal energies
g through
interaction with the absorbing medium, it can annihilate
with one of the atomic electrons producing two  rays of
energy 511 keV.
These  rays can then either be absorbed or escape the
This is evidenced by the so-called
so called escape peaks observed in
 -ray spectra. If one of the 511 keV photons escapes the
detector, then a peak is observed at E – m0c2 (single
escape peak). If both escape, then a peak is observed at E
– 2m0c2 (double escape peak).
Pair production only becomes important for high energy 
rays (5 – 10 MeV).
MeV) An approximate expression for the pair
production probability  is given by   Z2 log E.
KL Ramakumar 56
Gamma ray interaction
Three main types of interaction
Photoelectric absorption
Compton scattering
Pair production
All the three interactions lead to different peaks
in a gamma spectrum
h types off h
h i l gamma ray
Small size (
(< 2 cm)
Large size ( > 10 cm)
Medium size ( >2 cm < 10 cm)

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Gamma ray interaction probability

Photoelectric absorption probability

() n
 Z

n is normally between 4 and 5
depending on the absorber material
C t scattering
tt i probability
b bilit 
  Z/E

Pair production probability 

 Z2 log E.

Total absorption probability for

gamma ray interaction from all
these three processes (++)
passes through a minimum because
of the functional dependence on

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Absorption behaviour of gamma rays
Unlike charged particles,
particles a well
collimated beam of  rays shows a
truly exponential absorption in matter. This is because photons are
absorbed or scattered in a single event.
That is,, those collimated
photons which pass transmission
through the absorber have increases with
increasing gamma-
no interaction, while the ray energy and
ones absorbed have been decreases with
eliminated from the beam increasing absorber
in a single event. This thickness.
leads to exponential
attenuation. I = I0e-μx
where μ is mass
absorption coefficient and
x is the absorber
thickness. I0 is the initial
intensity and I is the
transmitted intensity of
gamma rays.

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Pair production and Bremsstrahlung

The pair production process is intimately related to the bremsstrahlung process.

In Bremsstrahlung, an electron undergoes a transition between two states, both
of positive energy, and a photon is emitted instead of being absorbed. The
electron,, w
when it enters the nuclear ffield,, is acted on byy the electromagnetic
g ffield
of the emitted photon, as well as by the coulomb field of the nucleus. The
intermediate states of the entire system involve the negative energy states which
characterize the Dirac electronic theory. The pair production process also takes
recourse to the Dirac electron theory of positive and negative electron states and
the processes involves lifting of an electron from negative state to a positive
state, thereby creating a hole and electron pair. The nuclear cross section is of
h order ( 2/137)(e
d off (Z / )( 2/m/ 0c2) for
f bothb h the h processes. In both
b h theh processes,
coupling between charged particles and electromagnetic field is necessary for the
process to occur.

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Interaction of Neutrons with Matter
Neutrons do not carry any electric charge
They do not have any coulombic interactions with electrons
in the matter and do not directly produce ionization and are
not continuously
i l slowed
l d down.
They interact with atomic nuclei, only through the nuclear
force which has an extremely short range.
Therefore they must score an almost direct hit on a nucleus
before an interaction occurs.
Since atomic nuclei are so much smaller than the atoms,
the probability of an energetic neutron hitting a nucleus is
very low and neutrons can traverse great thicknesses of
material before being stopped.
Common neutron reactions are (1) Spallation reactions, (2)
Elastic scattering, (3) Inelastic scattering, (4)
Transmutation (5) Radiative capture.
Transmutation, capture

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Interaction of Neutrons with Matter
S ll ti R
At very high energies (over 150 MeV) neutrons may strike a
nucleus producing a shower of secondary particles including
secondary neutrons and gamma rays.
rays These high energy
secondary particles would in turn interact within the
medium and get detected
El ti Scattering
S tt i
The neutrons simply bounce off atomic nuclei. The elastic
interaction of neutrons with atomic nuclei is most important
at neutron energies below the threshold for nuclear
reactions at a few MeV. The amount of energy which a
neutron loses in a collision with a nucleus will be large only
if the nucleus is relatively light. The most violently recoiling
atomic nuclei are the lightest, namely those of hydrogen
atoms. A neutron can lose all its kinetic energy in a single
collision with a pproton. Thus,, light
g nuclides are effective
moderators, but not heavy nuclides.
KL Ramakumar 65
Interaction of Neutrons with Matter
I l ti Scattering
S tt i
A neutron may strike a nucleus and form a compound
nucleus instead of bouncing off as in elastic scattering. This
nucleus is unstable and emits a neutron of lower energy
together with a gamma photon which takes up the
remaining energy. This process is most effective at high
neutron energies in heavy materials.

When neutrons,, p protons,, or other secondary
y pparticles
produced by spallation strike a nucleus and form a
compound nucleus which then ejects a different particle, a
transmutation is said to have occurred. These nuclear
reactions are most likely to occur when the energy of the
incident particle is between a few MeV and several tens of
Ex : 16O(N,
Ex.: O(N P) 16N

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Interaction of Neutrons with Matter

Radiative Capture
This is one of the most common neutron reactions. The
neutron is captured by a nucleus which emits only a gamma
photon. This reaction, which occurs in most materials, is the
most important one for neutrons with very low energy. The
product nuclei of ((n, ) reactions are usually
p y radioactive and
are beta and gamma emitters.

e.g.: 59Co(n, )60Co 23Na(n, )24Na

Neutrons therefore produce ionization indirectly through the

protons, recoiling nuclei, and other massive particles which
are products of various reactions of neutrons with atomic

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Detection of neutrons

Neutrons are detected indirectly by observing the protons

knocked loose by them or by nuclear reactions induced by
them. For example, the alpha particles are easily detected
in the nuclear reactions

14N + n  11B+ 
10B + n  7Li + 

Or 6Li + n  7Li + 

Slow neutrons are thus indirectly measured by a

proportional counter,
counter which is filled with BF3 gas.gas The
products, 7Li and  ionize the gas in the proportional
counter and the signals are detected. Fission reactions
induced by
y neutrons can also serve for neutron detection.

KL Ramakumar 68
Suggested Reading
Glenn F. Knoll, Radiation Detection and
Measurement, John Wiley & Sons, New York (1989)
G. F
G Friedlander,
i dl d J
W KKennedy,
d E E.S.
S MMacias
i and
Miller, Nuclear and Radiochemistry, John Wiley &
Sons, New York (1980)
R.D. Evans, The Atomic Nucleus, Mc Graw Hill Inc.,
New York (1955)
S.S. Kapoor and V.S. Ramamurthy, Radiation
Detection and Measurements, Wiley (Eastern), New
Delhi (1988)
H J Arnikar
Arnikar, Essentials of Nuclear Chemistry,
Chemistry Wiley
(Eastern), New Delhi (1994)
B.G. Harvey, Introduction to Nuclear Physics and
Chemistry, Prentice Hall of India, New Delhi (1965)
KL Ramakumar 69
Who has seen the radiations?
Neither I nor you!
But out of interactions
In the matter they traverse
d tthrough
oug tell-tale
te ta e signs
sg s
Of electrical signal they leave behind
Their presence is sure-felt!

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