Development of ultra-fast photon detection systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Future experiments in nuclear, hadronic and particle physics rely on the identification and complete, precise determination of the four-momentum vector of all reaction products. Imaging Cherenkov detector are an invaluable tool in providing this information. Charged particle traversing a dielectric medium with a speed greater than the speed of light inside the medium emit a come of Cherenkov radiations. The opening angle of this cone is (for a given refractive index of the radiator medium) a measure of the particles's velocity. This provides, combined with an independent moment measurement, a powerful method to infer the mass of the particle in question.

Imaging Cherenkov detectors current under development can be categories in two classes, classical Ring Imaging CHerenkov (RICH) counters and counters using the Detection of Internally Reflected Cherenkov light (DIRC). The RICH principle uses the light emitted from the radiator into an expansion volume to image the Cherenkov cone, while the DIRC principle relies on the optical properties of the radiator itself to propagate the light internally towards a photon detection array. The latter technique is also studied for energy and time-of-flight measurements.

The UK nuclear physics community is involved in three exciting new detector developments for precision studies of the strong interaction, the PANDA disc DIRC, the upgrade of the CLAS 12 detector with an Aerogel RICH and conceptual studies for the DIRC detector at a future electron-ion collider EIC. The nuclear physics group at the University of Glasgow is leading the development of the PANDA disc DIRC and the development and testing of the photon detection system for the CLAS 12 RICH.

These detector systems rely on segmented, high rate and high granularity, single photon capable detection devices. All detector systems will have to operate within or in the vicinity of a strong magnetic field. Their photon detection systems require a large filling fraction and a compact geometry. Our current and previous tests demonstrated that none of the available commercial solutions fulfil the criteria for future Cherenkov counters in nuclear and particle physics. We propose to develop and test a new generation of photon detectors together with research and industrial partners in the UK, Kelvin Nanotechnology, Kelvin/Rutherford laboratory and Photek.

The project comprised test of gain, homogeneity, rate dependence, time resolution, cathode lifetime and photon detection efficiency. These studies will be complemented by simulation studies of the detectors themselves and their properties in applications. The performance will be tested in laboratories at Photek and the University of Glasgow and by using existing Cherenkov prototypes in electron and hadron beams at the University of Strathclyde, GSI and CERN.

The principal investigator of this project is leading the European Joint Research Activity "CherenkovImaging" which complements the proposed research e.g. for applications at COSY, Juelich, Germany. Furthermore we are closely collaborating with UK institutions involved in the TORCH project, a proposed upgrade of the LHCb detector based on adapting the PANDA disc DIRC design to time-of-flight measurements, and the ATLAS Forward Physics group.

The properties of the photon detection system investigated are of great interest beyond the boundaries of fundamental nuclear and particle physics research. Its application in future medical imaging modalities like Time-of-Flight PET or PET/MRI fusion, is obvious. Less obvious, but potentially equally important, it could greatly enhance the current capabilities of studying time resolved fluorescence phenomena in cell research and other life-science applications. THe principle investigator and his group are currently conducting a pilot study into these applications in collaboration with the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research.

Planned Impact

The project aims at developing and establishing a new technology to detect single photons at very high rates and with excellent time resolution. This technology aims primarily to enhance the capabilities of fundamental research in hadron, nuclear and particle physics and is as such embedded in the human endeavour to further our knowledge of the world around us. The proposed development will provide an enabling technology to further our understand of the Universe at a very fundamental level, studying the fundamental constituents of the world we live in and the forces between them, answering e.g. the question on how the world can be build from fundamental particles and forces to show the complexity we observe. This provides an immeasurable impact in terms of human knowledge, understand and education. It will influence the teaching at Universities and inspires the wider public.
The project will have a more direct impact as well. It aims at developing an enabling technology with industrial partners in the U.K.. It will thus enhance the technological competence and expertise of the local industry and research environment and put U.K. industry and researchers further at the forefront of developing detector technology and its applications.
The technology will impact other areas of science as well. It will provide an enabling technology which can be applied to enhance the capabilities of a large variety of scientific apparatus. Applications range from improving fluorescence microscopy for biological and medical research and drug development to improved imaging modalities for the healthcare sector. The detector development team with the Nuclear Physics group at the University of Glasgow led by Dr B Seitz is deeply embedded in an interdisciplinary network to enhance the wider imaging capabilities of UK research in a variety of areas. The team is already pursuing pilot studied in a selection of areas outlined about and will be well positioned to drive these applications beyond the remit of fundamental physics research.


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Kalicy G (2014) Status of the PANDA Barrel DIRC in Journal of Instrumentation

Description At the current stage, new micro fabrication techniques are being developed and tested, which show high precision and an application to novel geometries hitherto untried.
Exploitation Route Yes, it is a generic advance in a crucial production technology.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other

Description Concept for a novel neutron detector for neutron imaging facilities
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description School visits Radiation and Health 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Series of talks to regional schools on how nuclear physics research provides benefits in healthcare applications

Interested about 150 secondary pupuis into science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013
Description Science Festivals and public talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact several presentaitions on Radiation and the Environment to school, in museums, at Science Festivals etc.

increased and increasing activity with schools, museums and science centres
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014