Particle detector

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Summary of Particle Detectors

In experimental and applied particle physics, nuclear physics, and nuclear engineering, a particle detector, also known as a radiation detector, is a device used to detect, track, and/or identify high-energy particles, such as those produced by nuclear decay, cosmic radiation, or reactions in a particle accelerator. Modern detectors are also used as calorimeters to measure the energy of the detected radiation. They may also be used to measure other attributes such as momentum, spin, charge etc. of the particles.


Detectors designed for modern accelerators are huge, both in size and in cost. The term counter is often used instead of detector, when the detector counts the particles but does not resolve its energy or ionization. Particle detectors can also usually track ionizing radiation (high energy photons or even visible light). If their main purpose is radiation measurement, they are called radiation detectors, but as photons are also (massless) particles, the term particle detector is still correct.

Examples and types

Many of the detectors invented and used so far are ionization detectors (of which gaseous ionization detectors and semiconductor detectors are most typical) and scintillation detectors; but other, completely different principles have also been applied, like Čerenkov light and transition radiation.

Cloud chamber with visible tracks from ionizing radiation (short, thick: α-particles; long, thin: β-particles)
Recording of a bubble chamber at CERN

Historical examples

Detectors for radiation protection

The following types of particle detector are widely used for radiation protection, and are commercially produced in large quantities for general use within the nuclear, medical and environmental fields.

Commonly used detectors for particle and nuclear physics

Modern detectors

Main article: Hermetic detector

Modern detectors in particle physics combine several of the above elements in layers much like an onion.

Research sites with particle detectors

At colliders

Under construction

Without colliders

On spacecraft

See also


  • Jones, R. Clark (1949). "A New Classification System for Radiation Detectors". Journal of the Optical Society of America. 39 (5): 327–341. doi:10.1364/JOSA.39.000327. 
  • Jones, R. Clark (1949). "Erratum: The Ultimate Sensitivity of Radiation Detectors". Journal of the Optical Society of America. 39 (5): 343. doi:10.1364/JOSA.39.000343. 
  • Jones, R. Clark (1949). "Factors of Merit for Radiation Detectors". Journal of the Optical Society of America. 39 (5): 344–356. doi:10.1364/JOSA.39.000344. 

Further reading

  • "Radiation detectors". H. M. Stone Productions, Schloat. Tarrytown, N.Y., Prentice-Hall Media, 1972.
General Information
  • Grupen, C. (June 28 – July 10, 1999). "Physics of Particle Detection". AIP Conference Proceedings, Instrumentation in Elementary Particle Physics, VIII. 536. Istanbul: Dordrecht, D. Reidel Publishing Co. pp. 3–34. doi:10.1063/1.1361756.