Transition Radiation

The spectrally resolved far field radiation created by electrons passing through a metal foil.

Our simulation computes the transition radiation to calculate the emitted electromagnetic spectra for different observation angles.

\[\frac{d^2W}{d\omega d\Omega} = \frac{e^2 N_e}{(4 \pi \epsilon_0)\pi^2 c}\Bigg\{ \bigg[ \int d^3 \vec{p} g(\mathcal{E}^2_\parallel + \mathcal{E}^2_\perp) \bigg] + \big(N_e - 1\big) \bigg[ \Big| \int d^3 \vec{p} g \mathcal{E}_\parallel F \Big|^2 + \Big| \int d^3 \vec{p} g \mathcal{E}_\perp F \Big|^2\bigg] \Bigg\}\]
\[\mathcal{E}_\parallel = \frac{u \cos \psi \Big[ u \sin\psi \cos\phi - (1+u^2)^{1/2} \sin\theta \Big]}{\mathcal{N}(\theta, u, \psi, \phi)}\]
\[\mathcal{E}_\perp = \frac{u^2 \cos \psi \sin\psi \sin\phi \cos\theta}{\mathcal{N}(\theta, u, \psi, \phi)}\]
\[\mathcal{N}(\theta, u, \psi, \phi) = \Big[ \big(1+u^2\big)^{1/2} - u \sin\psi \cos\phi \sin\theta\Big]^2 - u^2 \cos^2\psi \cos^2\theta\]
\[F = \frac{1}{g(\vec{p})} \int d^2 \vec{r}_\perp e^{-i\vec{k}_\perp \cdot \vec{r}_\perp} \int dy e^{-i y (\omega - \vec{k}_\perp \cdot \vec{v}_\perp) / v_y} h(\vec{r}, \vec{p})\]




Amount of real electrons


Azimuth angle of momentum vector from electrons to y-axis of simulation


Azimuth angle of observation vector


Polar angle between momentum vector from electrons and observation vector


The circular frequency of the radiation that is observed.

\(h(\vec{r}, \vec{p})\)

Normalized phasespace distribution of electrons


Normalized momentum distribution of electrons


Normalized momentum distribution of electrons


Wavevector of electrons


Velocity vector of electrons


Normalized momentum of electrons \(\beta \gamma\)


Normalized energy of electrons


Denominator of normalized energies


Normalized formfactor of electrons, contains phase informations

This plugin allows to predict the emitted virtual transition radiation, which would be caused by the electrons in the simulation box passing through a virtual metal foil which is set at a specific location. The transition radiation can only be calculated for electrons at the moment.

External Dependencies

There are no external dependencies.

.param files

In order to setup the transition radiation plugin, the transitionRadiation.param has to be configured and the radiating particles need to have the attributes weighting, momentum, location, and transitionRadiationMask (which can be added in speciesDefinition.param) as well as the flags massRatio and chargeRatio.

In transitionRadiation.param, the number of frequencies N_omega and observation directions N_theta and N_phi are defined.

Frequency range

The frequency range is set up by choosing a specific namespace that defines the frequency setup

/* choose linear frequency range */
namespace radiation_frequencies = linear_frequencies;

Currently you can choose from the following setups for the frequency range:




linear frequency range from SI::omega_min to SI::omega_max with N_omega steps


logarithmic frequency range from SI::omega_min to SI::omega_max with N_omega steps


N_omega frequencies taken from a text file with location listLocation[]

All three options require variable definitions in the according namespaces as described below:

For the linear frequency scale all definitions need to be in the picongpu::plugins::transitionRadiation::linear_frequencies namespace. The number of total sample frequencies N_omega need to be defined as constexpr unsigned int. In the sub-namespace SI, a minimal frequency omega_min and a maximum frequency omega_max need to be defined as constexpr float_64.

For the logarithmic frequency scale all definitions need to be in the picongpu::plugins::transitionRadiation::log_frequencies namespace. Equivalently to the linear case, three variables need to be defined: The number of total sample frequencies N_omega need to be defined as constexpr unsigned int. In the sub-namespace SI, a minimal frequency omega_min and a maximum frequency omega_max need to be defined as constexpr float_64.

For the file-based frequency definition, all definitions need to be in the picongpu::plugins::transitionRadiation::frequencies_from_list namespace. The number of total frequencies N_omega need to be defined as constexpr unsigned int and the path to the file containing the frequency values in units of \([s^{-1}]\) needs to be given as constexpr const char * listLocation = "/path/to/frequency_list";. The frequency values in the file can be separated by newlines, spaces, tabs, or any other whitespace. The numbers should be given in such a way, that c++ standard std::ifstream can interpret the number e.g., as 2.5344e+16.


Currently, the variable listLocation is required to be defined in the picongpu::plugins::transitionRadiation::frequencies_from_list namespace, even if frequencies_from_list is not used. The string does not need to point to an existing file, as long as the file-based frequency definition is not used.

Observation directions

The number of observation directions N_theta and the distribution of observation directions is defined in transitionRadiation.param. There, the function observation_direction defines the observation directions.

This function returns the x,y and z component of a unit vector pointing in the observation direction.

DINLINE vector_64
observation_direction( int const observation_id_extern )
    /* use the scalar index const int observation_id_extern to compute an
     * observation direction (x,y,y) */
    return vector_64( x , y , z );


The transitionRadiation.param set up will be subject to further changes, since the radiationObserver.param it is based on is subject to further changes. These might be namespaces that describe several preconfigured layouts or a functor if C++ 11 is included in the nvcc.

Foil Position

If one wants to virtually propagate the electron bunch to a foil in a further distance to get a rough estimate of the effect of the divergence on the electron bunch, one can include a foil position. A foil position which is unequal to zero, adds the electrons momentum vectors onto the electron until they reach the given y-coordinate. To contain the longitudinal information of the bunch, the simulation window is actually virtually moved to the foil position and not each single electron.

namespace SI
    // y position of the foil to calculate transition radiation at
    // leave at 0 for no virtual particle propagation
    constexpr float_64 foilPosition = 0.0;


This is an experimental feature, which was not verified yet.

Macro-particle form factor

The macro-particle form factor is a method, which considers the shape of the macro particles when computing the radiation.

One can select between different macro particle shapes. Currently eight shapes are implemented. A shape can be selected by choosing one of the available namespaces:

/* choosing the 3D CIC-like macro particle shape */
namespace radFormFactor = radFormFactor_CIC_3D;




3D Cloud-In-Cell shape


3D Triangular shaped density cloud


3D Quadratic spline density shape (Piecewise Cubic Spline assignment function)


Cloud-In-Cell shape in y-direction, dot like in the other directions


symmetric Gauss charge distribution


Gauss charge distribution according to cell size


forces a completely incoherent emission by scaling the macro particle charge with the square root of the weighting


forces a completely coherent emission by scaling the macro particle charge with the weighting


One should not confuse this macro-particle form factor with the form factor \(F\), which was previously mentioned. This form factor is equal to the macro-particle shape, while \(F\) contains the phase information of the whole electron bunch. Both are necessary for a physically correct transition radiation calculation.

Gamma filter

In order to consider the radiation only of particles with a gamma higher than a specific threshold. In order to do that, the radiating particle species needs the flag transitionRadiationMask (which is initialized as false) which further needs to be manipulated, to set to true for specific (random) particles.

Using a filter functor as:

using GammaFilter = picongpu::particles::manipulators::generic::Free<

(see TransitionRadiation example for details) sets the flag to true if a particle fulfills the gamma condition.


More sophisticated filters might come in the near future. Therefore, this part of the code might be subject to changes.

.cfg file

For a specific (charged) species <species> e.g. e, the radiation can be computed by the following commands.

Command line option



Gives the number of time steps between which the radiation should be calculated.

Memory Complexity


two counters (float_X) and two counters (complex_X) are allocated permanently


as on accelerator.


Contains ASCII files in simOutput/transRad that have the total spectral intensity until the timestep specified by the filename. Each row gives data for one observation direction (same order as specified in the The values for each frequency are separated by tabs and have the same order as specified in transitionRadiation.param. The spectral intensity is stored in the units [J s].

Analysing tools

The in lib/python/picongpu/plugins/plot_mpl can be used to analyze the radiation data after the simulation. See --help for more information. It only works, if the input frequency are on a divided logarithmically!

Known Issues

The output is currently only physically correct for electron passing through a metal foil.


  • Theory of coherent transition radiation generated at a plasma-vacuum interface

    Schroeder, C. B. and Esarey, E. and van Tilborg, J. and Leemans, W. P., American Physical Society(2004),

  • Diagnostics for plasma-based electron accelerators

    Downer, M. C. and Zgadzaj, R. and Debus, A. and Schramm, U. and Kaluza, M. C., American Physical Society(2018),

  • Synthetic characterization of ultrashort electron bunches using transition radiation

    Carstens, F.-O., Bachelor thesis on the transition radiation plugin,

  • Quantitatively consistent computation of coherent and incoherent radiation in particle-in-cell codes — A general form factor formalism for macro-particles

    Pausch, R., Description for the effect of macro-particle shapes in particle-in-cell codes,