Modern experimental methods in astroparticle physics

This course is part of the programme
Doctoral study programme Physics

Objectives and competences

This course aims at giving the students the theoretical and practical knowledge of the modern experimental methods in astroparticle physics.

The presentation of such a wide range of topics is built up over the common main goals of an (astro) particle physicist, which are the measurement of the energy (calorimetry), the reconstruction of the trajectory, and constraining the nature of the high-energy particles.

The description of the experimental methods is illustrated by numerous examples both from particle and astroparticle physics experiments, which helps to students to acquire the essence of the methods, as well as their specificity in a given implementation (e.g. using the Earth atmosphere as a calorimeter in numerous astroparticle physics experiments).

In addition to detector systems (calorimeters, trackers, muon detectors), the topics of the trigger and data acquisition methods, the detector simulation and the elements of the multivariate data analysis are also covered. Students will acquire the competences to quantitatively analyse measurements and interpret the results in modern astroparticle physics experiments.




  • Particle tracking detectors - impact parameter and vertex resolution; - momentum resolution; - application in large particle detectors; - tracking in satellite detectors (AMS-02, Fermi-LAT); - future developments.
  • Electromagnetic calorimeters - electromagnetic shower properties; - energy resolution of e.m. calorimeters; - example of ATLAS and CMS calorimeters; - example of Fermi-LAT & AMS-02 detectors.
  • Hadronic calorimeters - hadronic shower properties; - example of ATLAS TileCal.
  • Muon detector systems - muons and their interactions with matter; - implementations at the LHC; - implementations in the neutrino astronomy.
  • Particle identification - Ring Imaging Cherenkov detectors; - photon detectors and radiators used; - time-of-flight measurement; - transition radiation detectors; - implementation in AMS-02 and Fermi-LAT satellite detectors; - implementation in Cherenkov ground-based gamma-ray astronomy.
  • Trigger and data acquisition - basic concepts of DAQ; - trigger for hadron colliders; - implementation in AMS-2 and Fermi-LAT; - implementation in current imaging air Cherenkov telescopes (IACTs) and future CTA.
  • Detector simulation - detector geometry and physics description; - validation of simulations; - simulations in R & D and detector design; - role of simulations in the data analysis; - example of GEANT4 Monte Carlo transportation code; - examples of detector simulation in existing (Pierre Auger) and future (CTA) astroparticle physics detectors.
  • Multivariate data analysis methods
  • Atmosphere as the calorimeter for the VHE astroparticle physics experiments - cosmic ray showers; - electromagnetic and hadronic cascades in the atmosphere; - Monte Carlo calculations (using CORSIKA and other programs) and concept of thinning; - extension of the hadronic interaction models; - reconstruction of the shower parameters from observations; - impact on energy resolution and spectral reconstruction; - atmospheric monitoring tools.
  • Ultra-high energy cosmic ray (UHECR) detection at the Pierre Auger Observatory - Surface Detector (SD) and its performances; - Fluorescence Detector (FD); - Hybrid detection using both SD and FD; - results on arrival directions, energy spectrum, composition; - planned Pierre Auger Observatory Upgrades and perspectives of UHECR radio detection, R & D within the Auger collaboration; - Future developments (JEM-EUSO).
  • Imaging air Cherenkov telescopes (IACTs) - main performances (energy and angular resolutions; duty cycle; energy threshold; hadron discrimination and sensitivity); - existing IACT arrays (H.E.S.S., MAGIC, VERITAS) and their main results; - future Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA), design and the expected performances; - non-imaging detectors: HAWC, HiScore, LHASSO.
  • Detection of very-high energy (VHE) astrophysical neutrinos - the neutrino cross-section at the VHE energies; - neutrino oscillations; - neutrino telescopes; - IceCube and future KM3NET: gain in performances and physical goals.

Intended learning outcomes

Students learn the principles of different methods of particle detection and identification in astroparticle physics experiments and obtain the knowledge on the acquisition, simulation, analysis and interpretation of data in these experiments.

With practical work on examples from current and planned experiments, they learn advanced techniques of the particle tracking, calorimetry and muon detection, and the methods of primary particle reconstruction based on the detected particle cascades. They will learn how to evaluate and interpret the data using the data simulation and the multivariate data analysis methods (boosted decision trees etc.) widely used nowadays.

Students will learn in deep about the implementation of the experimental methods in the satellite (AMS-02, Fermi-LAT) and ground-based (Pierre Auger, H.E.S.S., MAGIC, VERITAS, CTA, HAWC, ARGO-YBJ) detectors of very-high energy (VHE) cosmic rays and gamma-rays, as well of the VHE neutrino detectors (IceCube, KM3NET).

Students will know typical sources of systematic errors and key performances (sensitivity, energy range, energy and angular resolution, acceptance, duty cycle, etc.) of these experiments, their current limitations and the methods and techniques of improvement of the detector characteristics. They will obtain know-how necessary to successfully integrate the experimental teams working on the current detectors or preparing the future experiments, and will have the broad and deep knowledge of the underlying physics.


• R. Fernow, Introduction to Experimental Particle Physics, Cambridge University Press, 1989
• K. Kleinknecht, Detectors for particle radiation, Cambridge University Press, 1986
• D. Green, The Physics of Particle Detectors, Cambridge University Press, 2000
• C. Grupen, Particle Detectors, Cambridge University Press, 1996
• T. Ferbel, Experimental Techniques in High Energy Nuclear and Particle Physics, World Scientific, 1987
• W. Leo, Techniques for Nuclear and Particle Physics Experiments, Springer, 1994
• T. Stanev, High energy cosmic rays, Springer, 2009
• Thomas K. Gaisser, Cosmic rays and particle physics, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
• M. S. Longair, High energy astrophysics, Cambridge University Press, 2011
• Pierre Auger Collaboration, Properties and performance of the prototype instrument for the Pierre Auger Observatory, NIM A523 (2004), pages 50-95.
• CTA Consortium, Design concepts for the Cherenkov Telescope Array CTA : an advanced facility for ground-based high-energy gamma-ray astronomy, Exp. astronomy, 32 (2013), pages 193-316.
• K. Louedec, Atmospheric effects in astroparticle physics experiments and the challenge of ever greater precision in measurements, Astropart. Physics, 60 (2015), 54-71.
• Thomas Gaisser and Francis Halzen, IceCube, Ann. Rev. of Nucl. and Part. Science, 64 (2014) 101-123


During the course students perform numerous exercises based on examples from research on the current experiments, which will help to verify practically how the necessary knowledge has been acquired. At the end of the course the students prepare a final project with a goal to demonstrate their capacity to characterise main experimental aspects of a well-defined and self-contained subject. All projects are prepared in a written form and defended orally in an open discussion with professor and students. 50/50

Lecturer's references

Assistant professor of Physics at the University of Nova Gorica.