U.S. Particle Accelerator School

Semiconductor Detector Systems course

Sponsoring University:

Michigan State University


Semiconductor Detector Systems


Helmuth Spieler, Ret. LBNL

Purpose and Audience
Semiconductor detectors are key components in many different applications. However, all build on a common set of basic principles whose specific aspects are straightforward to apply if the basic functions are understood. The purpose of this course is to instruct the participants in the physics and functional principles of the sensors and readout systems, and illustrate their application. The course is aimed at an audience of physicists and engineers.


Undergraduate degrees in physics or associated engineering. The course requires an understanding of basic physics.

It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that he or she meets the course prerequisites or has equivalent experience.

The course is aimed at an audience of physicists and engineers who wish to extend their competence beyond basic recipes and potentially apply their understanding to a range of applications.

Instructional Method
Instruction will consist of a series of morning lectures, afternoon laboratory experiments coupled with the morning’s topics, and written homework assignments, whose answers and potential problems will be discussed.

Course Content
The introduction will present some examples of different applications to illustrate the range of requirements. The discussion then moves on to explain sensor structures, signal formation, and electronic noise, which then leads to signal processing and optimization of signal-to-noise ratio. The next section discusses digitization techniques, including their flaws, which provides some key insights needed for a brief introduction to digital signal processing. Up to this point the discussions are largely technology-independent, i.e. these principles can be applied to either old or new technology and remain valid as technology progresses. Next, some examples of technology limits in the design of transistors and amplifiers will be discussed, including radiation damage. To illustrate how these many aspects combine in practical applications, some specific detector systems are chosen to demonstrate conflicts and trade-offs, and show how different solutions address the same goals. The closing section turns to what is probably the most important problem, why things don’t work. Although not exhaustive, it discusses many of the interference sources and design flaws that cause systems to perform more poorly than expected, or even be unusable. This is a complex topic, rife with simple recipes, which tend to be wrong.

Reading Requirements
(to be provided by the USPAS) Helmuth Spieler, “Semiconductor Detector Systems”, Oxford University Press (2005)

Credit Requirements
Students will be evaluated on the basis of homework assignments, classroom experiments, and a written examination.

IU/USPAS course: Physics 671