Particle detector

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The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is an example of a large particle detector. Notice the person for scale.

In experimental and applied particle 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 produced by nuclear decay, cosmic radiation, or reactions in a particle accelerator. Modern detectors are also used as calorimeters to measure 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 usually can also track ionizing radiation (high energy photons or even visible light). If their main purpose is radiation measurement, they are called radiation detector, but as photons can also be seen as (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 Cherenkov light and transition radiation.

Historical Examples

Detectors for Radiation Protection

Commonly used detectors for Particle and Nuclear Physics

Modern detectors

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

Installations of particle detectors

At colliders

Without colliders

See also

External articles and references

  • "Radiation detectors". H. M. Stone Productions, Schloat. Tarrytown, N.Y., Prentice-Hall Media, 1972.
General Information

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