Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Radioactivity and Shielding
Name:  Vesta
Status: student
Age: 19
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2000-2001

I am working on an experiment of radioactivity for my physics class and I found the absorption of radiation by matter using aluminum foil and placing various numbers of sheets of it between the gamma source and the Geiger-Muller tube, I found the counts per minute using for different numbers of foils placed in between the source and the tube. I graphed thickness vs. ln I (ln of cpm). I wanted to know What the coefficient of linear absorption is for aluminum(the actual value so I can compare it to my experimental)???? What would have been different if another material was used instead of aluminum for absorption? I have the equation lnI = -ux + lnIo....would the coefficient of linear absorption been different with different material?


When radiation is absorbed, one "piece" of the radiation is picked uo by an atom or molecule of the absorbing material. It may be turned into heat, or it may be re-emitted in another direction.

For gamma radiation, the "pieces" are photons. A large number are released by the gamma source. Some get stopped, while some pass through without hitting any aluminum atoms.

Different materials have different abilities to stop a gamma photon. Some materials, such as lead and iron, are very good at absorbing a gamma photon. Some materials, such as paper, are not very good at all. A sheet of lead will absorb many more photons than will a sheet of paper with the same thickness. Just as important as individual molecules is how tightly packed the molecules are. Molecules that are very close together are more likely to have a photon come into contact. The photon still may not be absorbed, but it will have more molecules to get past.

For a VERY thin sheet of material, the coefficient of linear absorption is (the portion of the intensity absorbed) divided by (the thickness). For thicker sheets, you have to use the logorithmic relation.

I expect sheets of paper or plastic will give significantly smaller coefficients than aluminum.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Illinois Central College

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory