Particle camera - logo of the detector

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.

Types of particle detectorsModern 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.

Historical Examples

  • Bubble chamber
  • Wilson cloud chamber (diffusion chamber)
  • Photographic plates

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.

  • Gaseous ionization detectors
    • Geiger-Müller tube
    • Ionization chamber
    • Proportional counter
  • Scintillation counter
  • semiconductor detectors
  • Dosimeters
  • Electroscopes (when used as portable dosimeters)

Commonly used detectors for Particle and Nuclear Physics

  • Gaseous ionization detectors
    • Ionization chamber
    • Proportional counter
      • Multiwire Proportional Chamber
      • Drift chamber
      • Time projection chamber
    • Geiger-Müller tube
    • Spark chamber
  • Solid-state detectors
    • semiconductor detectors and variants including CCDs
    • solid-state track detectors
    • Cherenkov detector
      • RICH (Ring Imaging Cherenkov Detector)
    • Scintillation counter and associated Photomultiplier or Photodiode / Avalanche photodiode
      • Lucas cell
      • Time of flight detector
    • Semiconductor detector
      • Silicon Vertex Detector
    • Transition radiation detector
  • Calorimeters
  • Microchannel plate detectors
  • Neutron detectors

Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia [online]. 2014 [cit. 2014-01-23]. Source:

Presentations about particle detectors

Presentation 1: Particle detectors - CERN seminar

Presentation 2: Basic information about particle detectors

  • Written by: Jablotron Alarms a.s.
  • Friday, 24 January 2014