Silicon based X-ray detectors: mobile instruments for materials research

In the Semiconductor Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Munich, scientists from the Max Planck Institutes for Physics and for Extraterrestrial Physics are developing detectors based on silicon chips, among them highly sensitive X-ray detectors for astrophysics as well as so-called tracking detectors able to track the paths of particles in particle accelerators.

An X-ray detector developed by Prof. Dr Lothar Strüder and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics – a so-called silicon drift detector – can also be used in material sciences. The detector analyses the characteristic X-ray fluorescence sent out by the various different chemical elements of a sample when bombarded with X-rays or particles.

Due to the excellent resolution of the drift detectors it is possible to identify different kinds of elements in the sample and to determine their respective concentrations. In addition, the detectors can be built into portable instruments, as, unlike other X-ray detectors, they do not require complex liquid nitrogen cooling systems.