A Cherenkov detector is a particle detector, which is based on detection of Cherenkov radiation (visible light or UV photons). In contrast to a scintillation counter the light production is instantaneous. Typical scintillator detectors have a decay time measured in microseconds while Cherenkov radiation is nearly instantaneous and with fast pulse processing equipment can be measured in picoseconds. Cherenkov counters are used mainly for the particle identification, i.e. for the determination of particle masses. Cherenkov counters contain two main elements:
- a radiator through which the charged particle passes,
- a photodetector (e.g. a photomultiplier tube – PMT).
The Cherenkov radiation, which is produced in the radiator, is electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) moves through a dielectric medium faster than the phase velocity of light in that medium. Particles exceeding the phase velocity of light result in polarization along the axis of motion creating a dipole field. When this field collapses, an electromagnetic pulse (Cherenkov radiation) is emitted in the forward direction.
Cherenkov radiation is commonly produced in dielectric materials through Compton electrons or pair-production electrons and positrons. The intensity of light produced by this process is much less than that of luminescence (the basis for scintillation detector operation) requiring more sensitive optical photon detection equipment such as low light photo-multiplier tubes (PMT). Cherenkov counters may be classified as either imaging or threshold types, depending on whether they do or do not make use of Cherenkov angle (θ) information. In the simple case of a threshold detector the mass-dependent threshold energy allows the discrimination between a lighter particle (which does radiate) and a heavier particle (which does not radiate) of the same energy or momentum. Imaging counters may be used to track particles as well as identify them. Although devices using Cherenkov radiation are often thought of as particle identification (PID) detectors, in practice, they are widely used over a much broader range of applications; including:
- fast particle counters
- hadronic particle identification
- tracking detectors performing complete event reconstruction.
A scintillation counter or scintillation detector is a radiation detector which uses the effect known as scintillation. Scintillation is a flash of light produced in a transparent material by the passage of a particle (an electron, an alpha particle, an ion, or a high-energy photon). Scintillation occurs in the scintillator, which is a key part of a scintillation detector. In general, a scintillation detector consists of:
- Scintillator. A scintillator generates photons in response to incident radiation.
- Photodetector. A sensitive photodetector (usually a photomultiplier tube (PMT), a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, or a photodiode), which converts the light to an electrical signal and electronics to process this signal.
The basic principle of operation involves the radiation reacting with a scintillator, which produces a series of flashes of varying intensity. The intensity of the flashes is proportional to the energy of the radiation. This feature is very important. These counters are suited to measure the energy of gamma radiation (gamma spectroscopy) and, therefore, can be used to identify gamma emitting isotopes.