Momentum of particles is crucial in helping us to build up a picture of events at the heart of the collision. One method to calculate the momentum of a particle is to track its path through a magnetic field; the more curved the path, the less momentum the particle had. The CMS tracker records the paths taken by charged particles by finding their positions at a number of key points.

The tracker can reconstruct the paths of high-energy muons, electrons and hadrons (particles made up of quarks) as well as see tracks coming from the decay of very short-lived particles such as beauty or “b quarks” that will be used to study the differences between matter and antimatter.

The tracker needs to record particle paths accurately yet be lightweight so as to disturb the particle as little as possible. It does this by taking position measurements so accurate that tracks can be reliably reconstructed using just a few measurement points. Each measurement is accurate to 10 µm, a fraction of the width of a human hair. It is also the inner most layer of the detector and so receives the highest volume of particles: the construction materials were therefore carefully chosen to resist radiation.

The final design consists of a tracker made entirely of silicon: the pixels, at the very core of the detector and dealing with the highest intensity of particles, and the silicon microstrip detectors that surround it. As particles travel through the tracker the pixels and microstrips produce tiny electric signals that are amplified and detected. The tracker employs sensors covering an area the size of a tennis court, with 75 million separate electronic read-out channels: in the pixel detector there are some 6000 connections per square centimetre.


For a more detailed account of the tracker see:
CMS: The Tracker Project Technical Design Report
(please be aware that elements of the detector may have changed since the report's writing in 1998)

Some design history ...

In the very first design sketch of CMS, the tracker section was left blank because it was thought that with the intensity of particles experienced in the LHC it would be impossible to make a tracker that could withstand it. In particular, making readout electronics that could work in this radiation would be a challenge. Hints that the US military, needing such electronics for space travel and nuclear warheads, might have solved some of the potential problems encouraged the team to explore this field.

However, the technology actually came from a most unexpected source; as the military market shrank at the end of the cold war and commercial electronics began to excel, the team took a gamble on a very fine feature manufacturing process, produced for a commercial market, which was not formally in the realm of “radiation hard electronics”. With some modifications, a few simple design tricks and selection of the right technology, it could be as radiation hard as needed. And it was a remarkable success. Eighteen months later the teams had rebuilt the old chips. They had low power consumption, low noise, and high overall performance and on top of this could be easily produced on a large scale, were relatively cheap and thoroughly tested. It was a big breakthrough. The same technology was then also used for the ECAL as well as CMS and ATLAS pixels.