Frequently Asked Questions

If you have some unanswered questions concerning our products or radiation in general, check out our frequently asked questions for the answers. The FAQ was last updated April 24th 2011.

What are the uses for a Gamma-Scout detector?

Professionals in the medical, nuclear and research industries use our Gamma-Scout detector to determine sources of radiation leakages, to keep track of personal dose, measure ambient radiation levels and identify samples as radioactive.

Border control, embassy security, port and cargo inspection, police and first responders use our detectors to check radiation levels of cargo and samples, to check ambient radiation levels and monitor personal dose measurements.

In the mining, prospecting, metal scrap and foundry industries, Gamma-Scout detectors are used to check the radioactivity of rock and metal samples.

Hobbyists and individuals use our detectors to test rock samples, to check ambient radiation levels, for gross detection of radon in the home, to learn about radiation and for personal monitoring of cumulative radiation doses.

What type of radiation does Gamma-Scout detect?

Our Gamma-Scout hand-held radiation detectors detect alpha, beta, gamma and X-ray ionizing radiation.

What is alpha, beta, gamma and X-ray radiation?

Alpha, beta, gamma and X-ray radiation are types of ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation are particles or electromagnetic waves that have sufficient energy to strip an atom of an electron (or electrons). It is invisible and not directly detectable by human senses, so instruments such as geiger counters are usually required to detect its presence.

Alpha radiation is an energetic free particle, a helium-4 nucleus. External alpha radiation is not harmful since alpha particles are shielded by a few inches of air, a piece of paper or a thin layer of dead skin cells. If ingested however an alpha radiation source can be harmful.

Beta radiation is also a particle, an energetic free electron. Both external and internal beta radiation can be harmful.

Gamma and X-ray radiation are electromagnetic waves of high frequency (very short wavelength). Gamma rays have frequencies above exahertz ( > 1018 Hz), and therefore have energies above 100 keV and wavelength less than 10 picometers, less than the diameter of an atom. Gamma rays from radioactive decay commonly have energies of a few hundred keV, and almost always less than 10 MeV. The key distinction between X-rays and gamma rays is X-rays are emitted by electrons outside the nucleus, while gamma rays are emitted by the nucleus. Both internal and external gamma or X-ray radiation are harmful.

I can't seem to get the software to work with Win 7, help!

Download the following file and unzip in some directory
Install the toolkit software, just double click on the "ToolboxInstaller" executable in the gscd423cd folder and follow the instructions.
Then connect the Gamma-Scout to the PC via a USB port and it may prompt you to install the device driver, if so point the install to the CD folder that you unzipped earlier and the driver should be installed. If there is no prompt then follow the instructions below to install the driver:

Click on the Windows Icon on the bottom right, then click on Control Panel
Click on the Device Manager
Then click on Other Devices --> USB Serial Port
Right Click Then Select Update Driver Software
Click on Browse my computer for driver software
Browse and go to the Gamma Scout USB folder
Click on OK

You may see "Windows can't verify the publisher of this driver software"
Choose "Install this driver software anyway"
Should see a message "Windows has successfully updated your driver software"
Start the toolkit software and hit the download PC button on the gammascout (bottom left) -- you should see PC on on the gammascout display (you may need to hit a popup button on the toolbox that tells you to hit the PC on button on the gammascout).
The raw data (hex data) should be downloaded from the Gammascout unit automatically, once its done there will be a text window that pops up with the converted data showing the measurements since the last data wipe.

Why is ionizing radiation harmful?

Ionizing radiation produce free radicals (atoms, molecules, or ions with unpaired electrons in their outer shell) in the body. The unpaired electrons of free radicals cause them to be highly chemically reactive. Many forms of cancer are thought to be the result of reactions between free radicals and DNA, resulting in mutations that can adversely affect the cell cycle and potentially lead to malignancy. Ionizing radiation may also directly damage DNA by ionizing or breaking DNA molecules.

Can Gamma-Scout detect radon gas?

The Gamma-Scout can be used to indirectly detect radon gas (it's an alpha emitter). One would do so by concentrating the radon for a few days (1-3) using activated charcoal and measuring the charcoal for any radiation readings. Note this only measures the presence of radon, for accurate pCi/L measurements one can purchase a radon gas detector.

How does a Gamma-Scout monitor radiation?

A Gamma-Scout uses a Geiger-Mueller (GM) tube as the radiation sensor. This tube contains a thin metal wire through its center, the space in between sealed and filled with gas. The wire carries a charge of 500 volts relative to the tube. A nuclear particle or gamma quant penetrating the tube (or an electron knocked out of the wall by X-rays or gamma rays) tears electrons off atoms in the gas, and because of the high positive voltage of the central wire, those electrons are then attracted to it. In the process they gain energy, colliding with atoms and releasing more electrons, until the process cascades into a "waterfall" producing an easily detectable pulse of current.

What are the Gamma-Scout units of measurement?

The Gamma-Scout geiger counter displays an exposure rate in both mrem/hr and µSv/h. The µSv (microSievert) is an internationally accepted unit for tissue dosage. Much of contemporary literature on the subject refers to the REM (Roentgen Equivalent Man). REM's are converted to Sieverts at the following ratios:

1 rem = 0.01 Sv = 10 mSv = 10,000 µSv
1 mrem = 0.001 rem = 10 uSv

The Gamma-Scout display can be shifted from Sievert to REM (see user guide).

What radiation doses are safe?

This is a question with a complicated answer. An accurate answer does not just depend on the radiation dose received, but the type of radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, x-rays), the type of radioisotope, whether the radiation is external or internal to the body (also how the radioisotope is absorbed, retained and excreted by the body) and if it's an acute dose or a lesser dose over a longer period of time. But to simplify matters there is a Princeton University web page with a general but hardly comprehensive answer.

I'm in the US, should I be worried about radiation from Fukushima?

At the time of this FAQ update (April 24th 2011), we would say no. The amount of radiation leaked and the distance (thousands of miles) means that the radiation fallout is extremely diffuse. There has probably been an increase in the radiation in food and water on the Western US and Canadian coast but it is so small as to be of little incremental risk to the body (remember everything we ingest already has some level of radioactivity). That said we recommend, one should always have a geiger counter in your survival kit because there are 100s of reactors here in the US and even though the risk of an accident is low it is not zero and one should be prepared to monitor ambient levels if there was ever domestic nuclear fallout.

For those in Japan, Asia and Northern US concerned about the Fukushima crisis, we have found the most informative and balanced reporting on the Fukushima nuclear crisis is the Greenpeace site, check it for updates on the ongoing situation in Fukushima.

Another good and balanced source of information for concerned Japanese, Pacific Islanders and North Americans (West Coast) is the FAQs on the Union of Concerned Scientists site.

Can Gamma-Scout detect radiation in food and water?

The Gamma-Scout is a general purpose survey meter, the typical use for the device is to measure ambient radiation levels, monitor personal dose rates, determine sources of radiation leakages or identifying rock and metallic samples as radioactive. We do not recommend the use of a Gamma-Scout to detect radiation in food or water, since any GM-based geiger counter will be inadequate to the task. If you do however want to detect items that may have been contaminated by fallout from an area in the vicinity of a nuclear incident, and know how to concentrate your samples, our devices will detect ionizing radiation from sources with the following energy levels:

  • Minimal Alpha Detection: Detects alpha radiation from 4 MeV
  • Minimal Beta Detection: Detects beta radiation from 0.2 MeV
  • Minimal Gamma Detection: Detects gamma radiation from 30 keV

Again, the most comprehensive radiation detection and measurements on food and water are done by labs and government instituitions using scintillation detectors and complex methods to concentrate the radiosotopes and to shield the testing from background radiation noise. Scintillation detectors costs tens of thousands of dollars, but are orders of magnitude more sensitive than GM-based geiger counters .

Is a Gamma-Scout radioactive?

No, the Gamma-Scout device is not radioactive. It does not emit any EMF waves either.

Can I take a Gamma-Scout on a plane?

Yes, it is safe to carry a Gamma-Scout on an airplane. It passes FCC Sec 15 standards and will not emit radio interference. The x-ray machine will not damage the Gamma-Scout. Furthermore, the Gamma-Scout contains no radioactive material and emits no ionizing radiation. People have taken our detectors on planes to see for themselves that the radiation on a flight in the air is markedly more (3 - 5 times) than background radiation on the ground.

Can I use the Gamma-Scout under water?

No, the Gamma-Scout will not function under water; just like a cell phone, the circuit will short out.

Does the Gamma-Scout need calibration?

Each Gamma-Scout undergoes a rigorous factory inspection and calibration protocol. We use a highly stable G-M tube so it is unlikely your Gamma-Scout will require calibration during the first 5 years of service. After that, should you desire a factory calibration and test, just return the unit and we will be happy to check and recalibrate your unit for a modest processing charge. The rules of ISO certification with industrial use require a calibration of all equipment after 2 years of use. We offer the service of memorised calibration via our German headquarters, charging $80 (shipping back included).

How far away from a radiation source can I measure with the Gamma-Scout?

This is dependent upon the type of radioisotope emitted, the intensity of the source and the barrier (shielding) between the source and the Gamma-Scout. A discrete object emitting a strong radioactive emission could be detected at up to 10 meters. Changes in ambient levels that are ubiquitous are easily detectable irrespective of distance, for example, on a transcontinental plane trip.

How sensitive is the Gamma-Scout?

The Gamma-Scout will measure from below ambient radiation level to 1,000 uSv/hr, or 100 mrems/hr. Gamma-Scout measures changes to radiation levels that would go virtually undetected with older Civil Defense-type counters and with an accuracy that is unmatched by cheap "radar detector-type" gamma alarms.

How durable is the Gamma-Scout?

Very. The Gamma-Scout was developed to wireless hand-held device shock standard. Its Novodur housing has a 30% thicker wall dimension than conventional designs. The housing will not crack, peel, split or shatter even under extreme temperatures or loads. Please note however that the sensor is a GM tube which can easily be damaged by piercing the mica window or possibly repeatedly dropping the unit.

What if I'm not happy with the Gamma-Scout?

If during the first 14 days you are unhappy with the Gamma-Scout for any reason, simply return it to us (without marks of use) and we will gladly refund your money.

What if the battery runs down?

The battery life with normal usage - without excessive use of the alert ticker and data downloads - should last 10 years. Once the battery does run down, the unit can be sent back to us to replace the battery and send the unit back to you. The cost of a battery replacement is only $80.

What if the isotope measured is not the reference isotope Cs-137?

The conversion from impulses per time into the dose rate is based on Cs-137. If other isotopes are present, the impulses per time can be directly displayed, and can be converted by using personal charts.

How long is the Gamma-Scout warranty?

The Gamma-Scout warranty is 2 years for any manufacturer defects, but not for damage happening after supply (during the warranty period), for example, a busted GM tube. The power consumption of the Gamma-Scout at common measuring is only less than 10 micro Ampere (micro, not milli !!). With normal usage the battery typically lasts 10 years. However, certain usage can increase power consumption and decrease battery life considerably. For example, excessive use of the ticker and alarm, excessive data downloads, operation of the unit in a high radiation environment. If the battery is drained after only a few months, this could be a case of current leakage which would be covered under the warranty. Battery replacements, even if before 10 years, are an after-sales services that we charge for (about $80 at the time of this FAQ update).