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Detection of Light a + b


Admission requirements


Part a
Part a of this course is aimed at observational astronomers in general, to provide a solid knowledge basis on the generation of their observational 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 optical devices. As astronomers are increasingly aiming at 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 of general relevance to observational astronomers, including readout schemes, cosmetic quality of array detectors and the mitigation of artefacts.

Part b
Part b will expand this course to cover recent detector technologies, such as:

  • Microwave kinetic inductance detectors (MKIDs)

  • Transition edge sensors (TES)

  • Avalanche photodiodes

  • Detection of high energy photons
    In addition, the course covers the uncertainty principle in photon detection as well as the development, testing and characterization of infrared (IR) detectors. The emphasis of part b is on applications and technical realization.

Course objectives

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

  • 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;

  • Performance aspects, mitigation of artefacts and calibration strategies relevant to the data analysis;

  • Future detector technologies for astronomy;

  • Acquisition, selection and compilation of technical information into a research project.

Soft skills

In this course, students will be trained in the following behaviour-oriented skills:

  • Problem solving (recognizing and analyzing problems, solution-oriented thinking)

  • Analytical skills (analytical thinking, abstraction, evidence)

  • Project management (planning, scope, boundaries, result-orientation)

  • Motivation (commitment, pro-active attitude, initiative)

  • Verbal communication (presenting, speaking, listening)

  • Written communication (writing skills, reporting, summarizing)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)

  • Creative thinking (resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box)

  • Integrity (honesty, moral, ethics, personal values)


See Schedules Astronomy master 2017-2018

Mode of instruction

Part a: Lectures
Part b: Lectures given by guest lecturers, most of them from outside Leiden University

Assessment method

Part a

  • Weekly homework assignments (mandatory and accounting for 20% of final grade)

  • Written exam - closed book with formula sheet provided (80%: ~50% calculations, ~30% qualitative explanations, ~20% multiple choice questions).

Given the relatively small number of students and the good rate of success, the re-take exam will be an oral exam. In this case, the homework assignments still account to the final grade for 20%.

Part b

  • Mandatory attendance of the guest lectures

  • Literature study/research report related to one of the topical guest lectures, to be completed within six weeks after the topic has been chosen (deadlines will be listed on the course website, see below). Grading will be according to the classification insufficient/sufficient/good. If the report (part b) is graded ‘insufficient’ the student will be offered to resubmit an improved version of the report within two weeks. In this case, the grade of the resubmitted report cannot be higher than 6.0.


Blackboard is not used for this course.

Reading list

Detection of Light – from the Ultraviolet to the Submillimeter, Rieke (2nd Edition, 2003), ISBN 0521017106 (required)


Via uSis. More information about signing up for your classes can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Lecturer: Prof. dr. B.R. (Bernhard) Brandl
Assistant: Patrick Dorval
More information can be found on the Detection of Light course website