Accelerating innovation

28 March 2013

A workshop marks the revival of the EPS Technology and Innovation Group.


Last year, the Executive Committee of the European Physical Society (EPS) decided to revive the EPS Technology and Innovation Group (TIG) by launching a workshop to take stock of projected R&D and technological innovations in research in accelerator and particle physics and their potential spin-offs to society. The three-day workshop took place on 22–24 October at the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture, in Erice, with some 25 participants. While it could not cover all ongoing technology and innovation activities, the workshop nevertheless provided the opportunity to review important developments based on international, interdisciplinary collaboration between research laboratories and university groups, supported by technology-transfer professionals as well as small and medium-size companies (SMEs).

The workshop opened with a talk by Phil Bryant, formerly of CERN, on “Accelerators: a history of innovation and spin-off”. His review of the repeated reincarnation of accelerators during the 20th century illustrated the importance of these machines – which were developed for nuclear and particle physics – as a major spin-off from basic research to medical applications. In the following presentation, Ken Peach of Oxford University stressed the importance of close collaboration between accelerator scientists, oncologists, radiobiologists and biophysicists. In his overview of radio- and proton-therapy he explained the underlying physics of radiation and its effects on tumour cells and normal tissue, the evolution of instruments and techniques, as well as the clinical aspects and the challenges. He gave many examples and statistics together with a list of improvements required after the transfer of instruments from accelerator laboratories to hospitals. His instructive overview of industrial solutions, new ideas and novel techniques showed the importance of this technology’s spin-off from research to society. Last, he outlined the potential of radionuclide production for medical tracers and described a proposal for a new biomedical facility at the Low-Energy Ion Ring (LEIR) at CERN. Several other speakers also discussed this latter topic, highlighting the need for more research in radiation biophysics and presenting details of the proposal.

Complementary to the accelerators are the detectors, sensors, and sophisticated electronic read-out chips that are now available for medical imaging. Jean-Marie Le Goff of CERN made the case for a low-energy cyclotron to produce isotopes for positron-emission tomography (PET). He covered the use in medicine of PET and computerized tomography technologies, presenting an overview of cyclotron manufacturers, as well as applications in industry and in the production of radiopharmaceuticals. He also described the joint project by CERN and the Spanish research centre, CIEMAT, to develop an ultracompact cyclotron for single-dose production in collaboration with an industrial consortium.

Another highlight was the talk by Michael Campbell of CERN on the incredible success story of the Medipix chip, which started in the days of the LAA project at CERN, driven by requirements for the LHC experiments for a hybrid-pixel detector. Hybrid-pixel vertex detectors are now installed in the ALICE, ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC and the same technology is being used in the photon detectors in LHCb’s ring-imaging Cherenkov detectors. All four of these systems are making a significant contribution to the output of LHC physics.

Meanwhile, the Medipix2 and Medipix3 collaborations have applied the hybrid approach to all kinds of applications in particle imaging. While some were foreseen, in many cases the applications (such as low-energy electron microscopy, or space-based dosimetry) were unimaginable at the start of the work. Background radiation can be seen with the Timepix chip, which has also become a powerful pedagogical tool for inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers (see, for example, CERN Courier May 2010 p22). Moreover, and thanks to the application of a novel read-out-architecture in deep sub-micron CMOS technology by the Medipix3 collaboration, high-resolution colour X-ray imaging is coming within reach.

To conclude on the topic of medical applications, Viviana Vitolo of the Italian National Centre for Oncological Treatment (CNAO) presented a clinical perspective on hadron therapy. She gave a complete overview of particle facilities in Europe and showed the preliminary clinical results from CNAO. Although based on a small number of patients and a limited time-scale, the results are encouraging because none of the patients present progressive disease and all present stable disease at first follow-up. She proposes that the particle-therapy community should over the coming years produce evidence on the need for hadron therapy, define clinical indications and convince the decision-makers.

Advanced technologies

A second major topic of the workshop concerned the R&D initiatives for the LHC upgrade and future research programmes at the collider. International collaboration in an innovative domain is exemplified in the latest studies and tests on crab cavities and superconducting-RF technology. In linear accelerators there is an R&D effort to improve efficiency and energy recovery, with a scheme to recycle the otherwise lost beam power in light sources and colliders to produce the RF power that is needed to accelerate. There is ongoing development and transfer to industry of superconducting-magnet technology, all of which is related to the proposed luminosity and energy increase of the LHC and its injectors.

European initiatives in detector R&D include the European Radiation Detection and Imaging Technology Platform (ERDIT). This activity is truly multidisciplinary. It involves scientists from microelectronics, semiconductor materials, computing science and various application areas. There is a general understanding that the lack of advanced detectors is the limiting factor in many applications, although the multidisciplinary character of the work makes it hard to find funding. The ERDIT proposal is an initiative to make detector scientists and users from different application fields join forces to put these issues onto the agenda of European funding agencies and industry. Even if the application requirements differ a great deal, several generic technologies are required to make an advanced detector. These include sensor materials, analogue-signal processing, digital processing, storage and communication, hybridization, mounting, packaging and information processing. By pushing the technology limits in these fields it should be possible to develop high-quality devices that can be combined in different configurations to create new and advanced radiation detectors in an efficient way. ERDIT would then be a forum to discuss the priorities and road maps for the research and to promote initiatives in this field.

Another interesting initiative is the ATLAS Technology Lab (ATLAB), which is an organized effort to support detector R&D in the ATLAS experiment. Using many examples from ATLAS today and the future goals for the detector’s performance, Marzio Nessi of CERN explained how the detector community could organize itself – in partnership with industry – to foster effective and necessary detector R&D. He also outlined ATTRACT, which is an initiative outside ATLAS that serves the radiation-sensor and imaging R&D community at large. As with ERDIT, this would work in close collaboration with industry – notably SMEs – to define a work programme for radiation detectors and their infrastructures and then distribute and manage related EU funding.

Talks on microelectronics and successful microchip projects complemented those on detector challenges. Microfabrication, for example, could lead to the integration of services – such as cooling in silicon. At CERN, several projects have been launched in the Physics Department (PH) in collaboration with experimental groups. Microchannel cooling has been adopted by the NA62 experiment for the Gigatracker and results have been published on prototypes; the technology is also being studied for the upgrade of the Vertex Locator in the LHCb experiment. Microfluidic scintillation detectors are under consideration for single-particle tracking and calorimeters in the ATLAS and ALICE experiments and in the Compact Linear Collider design study, as well as for beam monitors for hadron therapy. In the long term, the formation of a competence centre in microfabrication within PH, with synergies with the existing excellence in microelectronics design and wire-bonding module integration, could crucially advance the development of novel detectors for the LHC and future projects, providing exciting spin-offs to other fields.

New user facilities such as the European Spallation Source (ESS) are a trigger for innovation and collaboration with industry. Steve Peggs reported on this green-field construction project, a multilab collaboration with in-kind contributions from partners. He reviewed different types of spallation accelerators and the road map based on accelerator-driven systems (ADS). Neutron physics, which allows the observation of magnetic atoms and atoms moving inside materials, has seen a steady evolution of performance from research reactors and pulsed sources. The ESS will increase the research potential through its projected high flux and high average-availability time. Peggs also addressed the technical options, challenges and final design of the multimegawatt ESS, for which energy efficiency and recovery are design goals. Starting up in 2019 with 1.5 MW and aiming at 5 MW by 2025, this project is a “wonderful challenge”.

Other new user facilities include MYRRHA in Belgium, which is a high-power research reactor based on ADS to produce intense beams of secondary particles relevant for fundamental and applied science, and the International Facility for Anti-Proton and Ion Research (FAIR), currently under construction at the GSI laboratory in Darmstadt.

Transferring technology

The workshop went on to review technology-transfer techniques and success stories. One notable success story is that of Cristoforo Benvenuti, formerly of CERN. Using the non-evaporable getter pumping that he introduced in the dipole chambers for the Large Electron–Positron (LEP) collider and the sputtering techniques that he developed for the LEP superconducting RF cavities, a one-to-one transfer of accelerator technologies to the domain of solar thermal panels has occurred. Panel efficiency has been improved using evacuation to decrease thermal losses, which together with an intelligent process applied to solder the front glass to the metal frame, yields a competitive advantage. The resulting collector is highly efficient even when exposed to diffused light, which may comprise more than 50% of the total daylight in central Europe. Fully automatic production of these collectors, using intelligent robots designed by the company SRB Energy that Benvenuti created with the Spanish Grupo Segura, has resulted in the first orders.

Two presentations at the workshop were devoted to technology-transfer mechanisms. With proactive support for innovation and by improving the commercialization of research, the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has already obtained measurable progress, including open access for companies to labs, new jobs being created, new products taken to market, patent applications made and licensing agreements signed. In a new initiative, the STFC and CERN are jointly announcing a first call for a hi-tech start-up or SME looking to take high-energy physics technologies to commercial applications as part of the programme for a new business-incubation centre. This is just one example of a large number of activities that come under CERN’s Knowledge and Transfer group, which is keen to find help with promoting the many initiatives.

Computing infrastructure, networking and high-performance data-handling are all important topics in terms of technology transfer. Whereas the world wide web provides seamless access to information stored in many millions of different geographical locations, the Grid is an infrastructure that provides seamless access to computing power and data-storage capacity distributed throughout the globe. Bob Jones of CERN described the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid, which is vital in analysing the huge amount of data from the LHC. Such Grids are important for not only particle physics but also other research communities and business; in future, moves from Grids to clouds are foreseen. Jones also presented the successful CERN openlab project, which is a public–private partnership between the research community and industry. Volker Lindenstruth of the University of Frankfurt then described an innovative cooling-system architecture, the Green Cube, for the FAIR project’s high-performance computing backbone. He proposed investing in modern parallel programming to gain efficiency for the future computing needs of the Condensed Baryon Matter experiment at FAIR or of ALICE at CERN, as well as for lattice QCD physics analysis.

A video conference with Neville Reeve and Jean-Emmanuel Faure of the European Commission provided details about the Horizon 2020 programme. It was stressed during the workshop that transnational collaborations between research and industry are required and, indeed favoured, within this forthcoming programme. Projects similar to the model of CERN openlab or the ATTRACT/ERDIT initiative of the ATLAS collaboration are clearly in line with these requirements, allowing the distribution and management of related Horizon 2020 funding on behalf of the EU as part of its efforts to externalize funding. The intention is for the community to suggest more such proposals for co-innovation and collaborative frameworks between industry and research infrastructures that leverage the innovation potential and know-how gained by working together in areas of common interest and offering at the same time new benefits for industry.

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