Geiger Counters in Paranormal Investigations

Written by Ann Bender - Bender Family Paranormal


The field of radiation is vastly complex and includes the study of physics, mathematics, physical science, and history. Obviously, it is impossible to cover every aspect of radiation. Rather, this is a foundation to begin to understand this complex and common part of nature.

Why Should this be Considered?

Most theories of paranormal investigation center on various forms of energy. EMF detectors are widely used by many paranormal groups already. However, they only detect a tiny speck of the EMF spectrum. A Tri field Meter has a range of 5Hz to 2 kHz at one setting. (This is a lower frequency than even radio waves and cell phones.) The actual spectrum ranges from long radio waves through microwaves through magnetic fields through visible light past infrared into X-rays and beyond gamma rays. (Gamma rays have a frequency of 100 billion GHz and travel through us all day long.)

The full scale of EMF spectrum is shown to the right.

We see ghosts with our eyes in the visible light spectrum and we measure unexplained activity in other areas of the spectrum.  Why then wouldn't we be able to use Geiger counter in that portion of the spectrum?

Electromagnetic radiation is just as prevalent and can be measured in a similar fashion as an EMF can be, but with different devices. Another tiny part of electromagnetic radiation is known to you as light and is NOT always visible. It is a self-propagating wave in space with electric and magnetic components. It is more time consuming, but measuring it with a Geiger Counter may yield spikes in active paranormal locations that the EMF detector reads normal to.


Types of electromagnetic radiation range from those of short wavelength, like x rays and gamma rays, through the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared regions, to radio waves of relatively long wavelengths. Not all radiation is ionizing. And not all radiation is in the EMF spectrum!

Any wave like X-ray and gamma rays are part of the EMF spectrum. Alpha and Beta particles are ionizing radiation, but not waves and not part of the EMF spectrum.

What Proof do We Already have that Geiger Counters are Valuable in Paranormal Investigating?

Almost every investigator knows what a thermal camera is. Heat is thermal energy (which consists of thermal radiation). It is visualized using FLIR (forward looking infrared) or detected with a Geiger Counter. If thermal cameras are so desirable, why not Geiger Counters too?

What has been the Result of Geiger Counters on Investigations?                              

This was evidence by a particular investigation at a residence in Union City, CA (bottom left). At the time of the investigation the daughter's father was not long for this world. He lay in bed barely alive during this special request investigation. He also had kidney failure. The EMF detectors rarely spiked, but the Geiger Counter did spike to questions.  Also at Stanley Hotel (bottom right) the Geiger Counter spiked in the basement.  It read the same in all other locations, while the EMF spiked in other locations and not the Geiger Counter.

Why hasn’t more Research Already been Done in this Area?

For the most part, there are not a lot of people educated in radiology physics to understand how a Geiger counter works.  It is so common it is to find radioactive antiques, gemstones, and people.   But few apply this area of physics to the field of paranormal investigation. Also, it takes a person interested in radiation to study it.

What is a Geiger Counter?

Geiger counters are handheld radiation detectors for Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and X-ray. Not all devices include all types of radiation. When the device being used detects a radiation particle and audible click or beep is heard.

The different types of Geiger Counters vary greatly from large yellow or brown boxes used to detect atomic bomb levels of radiation and identical looking ones designed to read micro levels of radiation. The simple difference is the price. The first cost about $50.00 on E-bay and the second runs about $1,000.00. Now there are lots of other detectors out there. For about $200.00 a person can purchase a reasonable Geiger Counter that is very sensitive to micro levels of radiation.

Correct: WHITE and Incorrect: YELLOW, below



Cold War era Survey Meter (This is an Ion Chamber, not a Geiger Counter)

Hans Geiger developed a device (that would later be called the "Geiger counter") in 1908 together with Ernest Rutherford. This counter was only capable of detecting alpha particles. In 1928, Geiger and Walther Müller (a PhD student of Geiger) improved the counter so that it could detect all kinds of ionizing radiation.

The current version of the "Geiger counter" is called the halogen counter. It was invented in 1947 by Sidney H. Liebson (Phys. Rev. 72, 602–608 (1947). It has superseded the earlier Geiger counter because of its much longer life. The devices also used a lower operating voltage.

Basic Units of Radiation Measurement

There are different units of measure when talking about radiation. The unit of absorbed dose is the rem or SI (system international – aka metric) equivalent, the Sievert (Sv) when using a Geiger Counter.

Roentgen: Is the measurement of energy produced by Gamma or Beta radiation in a cubic centimeter of air. It is abbreviated with the capital "R". One millionth, abbreviated "mR" is one-thousandth of a roentgen. One micro roentgen, abbreviated “uR” is one-millionth of a roentgen.

RAD: Radiation Absorbed Dose. This is the original measuring unit for expressing the absorption of all types of ionizing radiation (alpha, beta, gamma, neutrons, etc) into any medium. One rad is equivalent to the absorption of 100 ergs of energy per gram of absorbing tissue. (The gray or Gy is the SI equivalent.)

REM: Roentgen Equivalent Man is a measurement that correlates the dose of any radiation to the biological effect of that radiation. Since not all radiation has the same biological effect, the dosage is multiplied by a "quality factor" (Q). For example, a person receiving a dosage of gamma radiation will suffer much less damage that a person receiving the same dosage from alpha particles, by a factor of three. So alpha particles will cause three times more damage than gamma rays. Therefore, alpha radiation has a quality factor of three. Following is the Q factor for a few radiation types. (The SI equivalent is the Sievert or Sv.)

1 Sv = 100 rem

1 mSv = 100 mR

1 rem = .01 Sv

1 mR(mrem) = .01 mSv

1 Gy = 100 rad

1mGy = 100 mrad

1 rad = .01 Gy

1 mrad = .01 mGy

Common Radiation Sources in Antiques

Vaseline (Uranium) glass
Paints/glazes used until 1943 i.e. bathroom tiles
Radium painted dials, discontinued in 1945
Vintage Pottery 1936 – 1943, 1959-1969 like Red Fiesta Ware
        ( The glazes were made from uranium oxide = high levels of alpha & beta )

Gas Lantern Mantles – thorium and X-rays, even in the ash
Antique spark plugs – Polonium (138 day half life)

Common Radiation Sources in Food

Bananas – Potassium
Salt Substitute – K++
Brazil Nuts – They absorb natural occurring uranium in the soil

Other Radiation Sources

Dentures – Until 1985 many porcelain dentures contained uranium!
Cloisonné (special painted beads from Europe) – actually painted with uranium and a health danger!
Smoke detectors – Americium [alpha and (gamma when destroyed by fire.)]
Jewelry – The New York Health Dept. issued a warning because radioactive metals were missed in the making of jewelry causing skin rashes to amputations in the 1980’s.

Common Radiation Sources in WWI and WWII Planes

The pilot area or anywhere that is painted with fluorescent paint or where the bombs where carried. B-12 bombers and any plane from this era are a big source for this paint in unexpected locations. Many radioactive products were used during this era and may be present in minute quantities. (Watch for old wiring, since it was painted with radium as indicators in the dark.)

Common Radiation Sources in Military Ships

Anywhere or anything painted with fluorescent paint or were nuclear weapons wear stored.

The U.S.S. Hornet has been stripped of all lead and fluorescent paint.

Also worth noting on the U.S.S. Hornet, the readings are much lower inside the ship, due to its thick construction that protects it from solar variables.

Radon, the other Major Radiation Source

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas. It seeps out of uranium-containing soils found throughout the world and accumulates in sealed homes, usually in the basement. Radon is often the single largest contributor to an individual’s background radiation in these locations. It is best detected with Radon detectors and not Geiger Counters.


Gray: The SI unit of absorbed dose; 1 gray = 100 rads

 Rad: The unit of radiation absorbed dose

 Rem: A measure of radiation dose related to biological effect

 Roentgen: The unit of exposure from X or gamma rays (see exposure)

 Sievert: The SI unit of dose equivalent; 1 Sv = 100 rem

X-rays: Penetrating electromagnetic radiation whose wavelengths are shorter than those of visible light.

Radioactivity: The spontaneous emission of radiation from the nucleus of an unstable atom. As a result of this emission, the radioactive atom is converted, or decays, into an atom of a different element that might or might not be radioactive.

Gamma rays, or gamma radiation: Electromagnetic radiation of high energy. Gamma rays are the most penetrating type of radiation and represent the major external hazard.

Exposure: A quantity used to indicate the amount of ionization in air produced by x- or gamma-ray radiation. The unit is the roentgen (R). For practical purposes, one roentgen is comparable to 1 rad or 1 rem for X and gamma radiation. The SI unit of exposure is the coulomb per kilogram (C/kg). One R = 2.58 x 10-4 C/kg.

Electromagnetic radiation: A traveling wave motion that results from changing electric and magnetic fields. Types of electromagnetic radiation range from those of short wavelength, like x rays and gamma rays, through the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared regions, to radar and radio waves of relatively long wavelengths.

Dose rate: The dose delivered per unit of time. It is usually expressed as rads per hour or in multiples or sub multiples of this unit such as millirads per hour. The dose rate is commonly used to indicate the level of hazard from a radioactive source.

Cosmic rays: High-energy radiation that originates outside the Earth's atmosphere.

Curie: A unit of measure used to describe the amount of radioactivity in a sample of material.

Beta particle: A small particle ejected from a radioactive atom. It has a moderate penetrating power and a range of up to a few meters in air. Beta particles will penetrate only a fraction of an inch of skin tissue.

Becquerel: The SI unit of activity 1 disintegration per second; 37 billion Bq = 1 curie. (See conversion factors in the Measurement section.

Background radiation: The radiation in man's natural environment, including cosmic rays and radiation from the naturally radioactive elements, both outside and inside the bodies of humans and animals. It is also called natural radiation. Man-made sources of radioactivity contribute to total background radiation levels.

Alpha particle: A specific particle ejected from a radioactive atom. It has low penetrating power and short range. Alpha particles will generally fail to penetrate the skin. Alpha-emitting atoms can cause health effects if introduced into the lungs or wounds.



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