Čerenkov radiation

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Cherenkov radiation (also spelled Cerenkov or Čerenkov) is electromagnetic radiation emitted when a charged particle (such as an electron) passes through a dielectric medium at a speed greater than the phase velocity of light in that medium. The charged particles polarize the molecules of that medium, which then turn back rapidly to their ground state, emitting radiation in the process. The characteristic blue glow of nuclear reactors is due to Cherenkov radiation. It is named after Russian scientist Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov, the 1958 Nobel Prize winner who was the first to characterise it rigorously.[1]


Physical origin

While relativity holds that the speed of light in a vacuum is a universal constant (c), the speed at which light propagates in a material may be significantly less than c. For example, the speed of the propagation of light in water is only 0.75c. Matter can be accelerated beyond this speed during nuclear reactions and in particle accelerators. Cherenkov radiation results when a charged particle, most commonly an electron, travels through a dielectric (electrically polarizable) medium with a speed greater than that at which light would otherwise propagate in the same medium.

Moreover, the velocity that must be exceeded is the phase velocity of light rather than the group velocity of light. The phase velocity can be altered dramatically by employing a periodic medium, and in that case one can even achieve Cherenkov radiation with no minimum particle velocity—a phenomenon known as the Smith-Purcell effect. In a more complex periodic medium, such as a photonic crystal, one can also obtain a variety of other anomalous Cherenkov effects, such as radiation in a backwards direction (whereas ordinary Cherenkov radiation forms an acute angle with the particle velocity).[2]

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