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Detection of Light a + b


Admission requirements

  • BSc course on Astronomical Observing Techniques;

  • Basic knowledge of solid state physics;

  • For Part ‘b’, the successful completion of ‘Detection of Light’ Part ‘a’ is required.


Part ‘a’ of this course is aimed at observational astronomers in general, to provide a solid knowledge basis about the generation of their data.
Detectors are the crucial link between the astronomical target and the observer. Apart from the telescope, their performance is arguably the single most important component – and often weakest link – in the chain of observational components. As astronomers are aiming at fainter and fainter targets, the quality and calibration of the detector systems have become increasingly important. Detector types that will be discussed include intrinsic and extrinsic photo-conductors, CCDs, BIB detectors, photodiodes, bolometers, and submillimeter- and millimeterwave heterodyne receivers. The course covers their physical principles and discusses performance aspects like linearity and dynamical range, spectral response, bandwidth, quantum efficiency and noise. In addition, this course covers practical aspects which are of general relevance to observational astronomers, such as readout schemes, cosmetic quality of array detectors, and the mitigation of artefacts.
Part ‘b’ will expand the course to cover recent detector technologies, such as:

  • microwave kinetic inductance detectors (MKIDs),

  • transition edge sensors (TES),

  • avalanche photodiodes

  • detection of high energy photons, and

  • radio wave detection

In addition, the course covers the uncertainty principle in photon detection as well as the development, test and characterization of IR detectors. The emphasis of part ‘b’ is on applications and technical realization. The lectures will be given by guest lecturers from outside Leiden University.

Course objectives

The main objectives of this course are to provide an overview of:

  • the various technologies (and underlying physics) used to detect electromagnetic radiation from UV to sub-millimeter wavelengths;

  • the most common devices to be found in astronomical instruments;
    The students will not only understand how detector work but also learn about performance aspects, mitigation of artefacts, and calibration strategies, which are relevant to the data analysis.
    The additional objective of part ‘b’ is to learn about future detector technologies for astronomy and to find, select and compile technical information into a research report (see Assesment).


See MSc schedules

Mode of instruction

Lectures, weekly home work assignments (part ‘a’), and report on literature study (part ‘b’).

Assessment method

The assessment of part ‘a’ is mainly done by a written exam at the end of the course (part ‘A’). The exam is “closed book”, a formula sheet will be provided. The exam consists of three parts: calculations (~50%), qualitative explanations (~30%), and multiple choice questions (~20%).
In addition, there are weekly homework assignments. These are mandatory.
The final grade is determined from the written exam (80%) and the homeworks (20%)
Given the relatively small number of students and the good rate of success, the re-take exam will be an oral exam.
The assessment of part ‘b’ is based on an individual literature study/research report, closely related to one of the topical guest lectures. The report has to be completed within 6 weeks after the topic has been chosen. The grade will simply follow the scheme O/V/G. Attendance of the guest lectures is mandatory.


No. Lecture notes, homeworks, additional readings and assignments will be provided on the course website (see below).

Reading list

  • Detection of Light – from the Ultraviolet to the Submillimeter, by George Rieke, 2nd Edition, 2003, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-01710-6.


Via uSis.
More information about signing up for your classes at the Faculty of Science can be found here
Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.
For Interest only & Contractual enrollment, please see this website.

Contact information

Lecturer: Prof. dr. B.R. (Bernhard) Brandl
Assistant: Michael Wilby
More information can be found on the lecturer’s website.


Please note that this is a mandatory course for all MSc students who follow the Astronomy and Instrumentation programme.