LHCb’s momentous metamorphosis

The LHCb detector is to be totally rebuilt in time for the restart of LHC operations.

Tender loving care

In November 2018 the LHC brilliantly fulfilled its promise to the LHCb experiment, delivering a total integrated proton–proton luminosity of 10 fb–1 from Run 1 and Run 2 combined. This is what LHCb was designed for, and more than 450 physics papers have come from the adventure so far. Having recently finished swallowing these exquisite data, however, the LHCb detector is due some tender loving care.

In fact, during the next 24 months of long-shutdown two (LS2), the 4500 tonne detector will be almost entirely rebuilt. When it emerges from this metamorphosis, LHCb will be able to collect physics events at a rate 10 times higher than today. This will be achieved by installing new detectors capable of sustaining up to five times the instantaneous luminosity seen at Run 2, and by implementing a revolutionary software-only trigger that will enable LHCb to process signal data in an upgraded CPU farm at the frenetic rate of 40 MHz – a pioneering step among the LHC experiments.

Subdetector structure

LHCb is unique among the LHC experiments in that it is asymmetric, covering only one forward region. That reflects its physics focus: B mesons, which, rather than flying out uniformly in all directions, are preferentially produced at small angles (i.e. close to the beam direction) in the LHC’s proton collisions. The detector stretches for 20 m along the beam pipe, with its sub-detectors stacked behind each other like books on a shelf, from the vertex locator (VELO) to a ring-imaging Cherenkov detector (RICH1), the silicon upstream tracker (UT), the scintillating fibre tracker (SciFi), a second RICH (RICH2), the calorimeters and, finally, the muon detector.

The LHCb upgrade was first outlined in 2008, proposed in 2011 and approved the following year at a cost of about 57 million Swiss francs. The collaboration started dismantling the current detector just before the end of 2018 and the first elements of the upgrade are about to be moved underground.

Physics boost

The LHCb collaboration has so far made numerous important measurements in the heavy-flavour sector, such as the first observation of the rare decay B0s  µ+µ, precise measurement of quark-mixing parameters and the observation of new baryonic and pentaquark states. However, many crucial measurements are currently statistically limited. The LHCb upgrade will boost the experiment’s physics reach by allowing the software trigger to handle an input rate around 30 times higher than before, bringing greater precision to theoretically clean observables.

Under construction

Flowing at an immense rate of 4 TB/s, data will travel from the cavern, straight from the detector electronics via some 9000 300 m-long optical fibres, into front-end computers located in a brand-new data centre that is currently nearing completion. There, around 500 powerful custom-made boards will receive the data and transfer it to thousands of processing cores. Current trigger-hardware equipment will be removed and new front-end electronics have been designed for all the experiment’s sub-detectors to cope with the substantially higher readout rates.

For the largest and heaviest LHCb devices, namely the calorimeters and muon stations, the detector elements will remain mostly in place. All the other LHCb detector systems are to be entirely replaced, apart from a few structural frames, the dipole magnet, shielding elements and gas or vacuum enclosures.

Subdetector activities


The VELO at the heart of LHCb, which allows precise measurements of primary and displaced vertices of short-lived particles, is one of the key detectors to be upgraded during LS2. Replacing the current system based on silicon microstrip modules, the new VELO consists of 26 tracking layers made from 55 × 55 µm2 pixel technology, which offers better hit resolution and simpler track reconstruction. The new VELO will also be closer to the beam axis, which poses significant design challenges. A new chip, the VELOPIX, capable of collecting signal hits from 256 × 256 pixels and sending data at a rate of up to 15 Gb/s, was developed for this purpose. Pixel modules include a cutting-edge cooling substrate based on an array of microchannels trenched out of a 260 µm-thick silicon wafer that carry liquid carbon dioxide to keep the silicon at a temperature of –20 °C. This is vital to prevent thermal run-away, since these sensors will receive the heaviest irradiation of all LHC detectors. Prototype modules have recently been assembled and characterised in tests with high-energy particles at the Super Proton Synchrotron.

The RICH detector will still be composed of two systems: RICH1, which discriminates kaons from pions in the low-momentum range, and RICH2, which performs this task in the high-momentum range. The RICH mirror system, which is required to deflect and focus Cherenkov photons onto photodetector planes, will be replaced with a new one that has been optimised for the much increased particle densities of future LHC runs. RICH detector columns are composed of six photodetector modules (PDMs), each containing four elementary cells hosting the multi-anode photomultiplier tubes. A full PDM was successfully operated during 2018, providing first particle signals.

Mounted just between RICH1 and the dipole magnet, the upstream tracker (UT) consists of four planes of silicon microstrip detectors. To counter the effects of irradiation, the detector is contained in a thermal enclosure and cooled to approximately –5 °C using a CO2 evaporative cooling system. Lightweight staves, with a carbon foam back-plane and embedded cooling pipe, are dressed with flex cables and instrumented with 14 modules, each composed of a polymide hybrid circuit, a boron nitride stiffener and a silicon microstrip sensor.

VELO upgrade

Further downstream, nestled between the RICH2 and the magnet, will sit the SciFi – a new tracker based on scintillating fibres and silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) arrays, which replaces the drift straw detectors and silicon microstrip sensors used by the current three tracking stations. The SciFi represents a major challenge for the collaboration, not only due to its complexity, but also because the technology has never been used for such a large area in such a harsh radiation environment. More than 11,000 km of fibre was ordered, meticulously verified and even cured from a few rare and local imperfections. From this, about 1400 mats of fibre layers were recently fabricated in four institutes and assembled into 140 rigid 5 × 0.5 m2 modules. In parallel, SiPMs were assembled on flex cables and joined in groups of 16 with a 3D-printed titanium cooling tube to form sophisticated photodetection units for the modules, which will be operated at about –40 °C.

As this brief overview demonstrates, the LHCb detector is undergoing a complete overhaul during LS2 – with large parts being totally replaced – to allow this unique LHC experiment to deepen and broaden its exploration programme. CERN support teams and the LHCb technical crew are now busily working in the cavern, and many of the 79 institutes involved in the LHCb collaboration from around the world have shifted their focus to this herculean task. The entire installation will have to be ready for the commissioning of the new detector by mid-2020 so that it is ready for the start of Run 3 in 2021.

Further reading

LHCb Collaboration 2008 CERN-LHCC-2008-007.

LHCb Collaboration 2011 CERN-LHCC-2011-001.

LHCb Collaboration 2012 CERN-LHCC-2012-007.

About the author

Massimiliano Ferro-Luzzi
LHCb detector upgrade coordinator, CERN.

Rolf Lindner
LHCb technical coordinator, CERN.

Giovanni Passaleva
LHCb spokesperson, CERN.