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Detectors and Electronics in Scientific Discoveries


Veljko Radeka

Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, NY

 Lecture at IRB, Zagreb, May 31, 2010



Many scientific experiments today rely on detectors of photons, charged and neutral particles, and on microelectronics for detection and measurement of various phenomena to be observed and for data acquisition. While the field of scientific instruments is vast, I will illustrate the impact of detector and electronics technology on scientific research by several examples from diverse areas of science, none of which would have been possible without advances in detectors and electronics:

  • X-ray fluorescence analysis with synchrotron radiation
  • Thermal neutron detectors for molecular and crystal structure studies by neutron scattering
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET) for studies of brain physiology
  • Detection of Solar neutrinos → Discovery of “Neutrino Deficit”→Neutrino Oscillations
  • Giant detectors for Neutrino Oscillations and Nucleon Decay Studies
  • Large telescope for Dark Matter/Dark Energy Studies


One of these examples (detection of solar neutrinos) led to a Nobel Prize for a Brookhaven researcher.  This relatively simple experiment, which took ~25 years to complete, opened up a new research field for several decades to come – studies of neutrino properties. This research field requires truly giant detectors based on low noise electronics on large scale (hundreds of thousands of detector segments and signal channels). The first three examples are of great practical significance. The last two, yet to be realized, are to advance basic understanding of the elementary particle physics, and are of importance for cosmology and understanding of the universe. The first five examples are based on detection of ionizing radiation (photons) and detection of neutral particles (neutrons and neutrinos). The sixth example (the telescope) is based on detection of photons in the visible and near-infrared range. A common thread in the concepts presented here is interdependence and close coupling among the experiment principles, detector design and microelectronics design.

The examples presented are among the experiments where Instrumentation Division at BNL has been involved as a key contributor.


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