Detector development for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope

Lead Research Organisation: Armagh Observatory
Department Name: Astronomy


In recent years, a wealth of observational data from a range of (highly successful) ground- and satellite-based solar facilities has revealed the perplexing and complex nature of the Sun's atmospheric structure and dynamics. This tremendous complexity is a result of the continuous interaction of the plasma motions with the magnetic field. To understand these interactions, we need to observe, model and interpret solar phenomena over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, and in particular establish the links between the small-scale processes and the large-scale phenomena.

Solar physics research is very strong in the UK and an area of high priority in the STFC Roadmap. The commissioning of the Rapid Oscillations in Solar Atmosphere imager in 2009 allowed the UK community to expand both its user base of ground-based solar facilities and its exploitation of data from such facilities, which can provide higher spatial and temporal resolution that their satellite-based counterparts. For the future, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), under construction by the US National Solar Observatory with first-light expected in 2019, will be a truly revolutionary facility for ground-based solar physics. It will operate in the optical and near-infrared and be the pre-eminent ground-based solar telescope for the foreseeable future. Key advances in its instrumentation over that currently available include ultra-high spatial (25 km on the solar surface) and temporal (millisecond) resolution, high resolution imaging spectroscopy and coronal magnetometry. The first-light science objectives of the ATST are at the core of UK solar physics research programmes, and it is clearly important for the UK community to have access to the facility to remain competitive.

Current UK-led technology has been highlighted as the best option for detectors meeting the science requirements of the ATST. In this proposal we aim to secure UK participation in the ATST and maximise the science return for the UK community at the time of first-light. This will be achieved by a joint programme, funded by STFC, a consortium of UK universities/research institute and industry (Andor Technology plc), on the development of new state-of-the-art detectors for the ATST, plus a set of software tools that will allow the optimal planning of ATST observations and the processing of the resultant datasets.

The main academic benefit for the UK will be dedicated observing time on the world-leading ATST facility, which our solar physics community will be in an excellent position to exploit. In terms of non-academic benefit, the proposed detector development will have a significant socio-economic impact and is therefore in line with the STFC strategy for economic growth through innovation. It will open new technological markets and provide growth and diversity in existing detector markets.

Planned Impact

1. Public engagement
All Applicants are highly active in Public Understanding of Science (PUS) programmes linked to their research. Examples
(which will continue over the grant period) include:

Queen's: talks at annual events (Horizons in Physics for 4th/5th-form students; Physics 6th-Form Open Days; Physics
Teachers Conference). Hosts work experience for schoolchildren, including summer projects funded by Nuffield
Foundation. Ongoing partnership with W5 Discovery Centre (Belfast), hosting talks/Q&A sessions and hands-on building

Armagh: tours of the Observatory and Astropark, popular talks and special public lectures/exhibitions. Recent PUS projects
include construction of the Human Orrery and facilitating an annual Cross-Border Schools Science Conference.

Glasgow: solar physics talks to societies, schools & public including in remote parts of Scotland

Northumbria: PUS programme with local FE colleges, and involvement in regional/national science festivals (e.g.
Newcastle). Recently awarded £1M from HEFCE Catalyst Fund for project to improve uptake of physics. Creating a
dedicated Physics and Astrophysics outreach centre for this.

Sheffield: engages in school education programmes during e.g. National Science week, and recently joined University's
Expert Guide, used frequently by journalists to source comments on topical news stories.

St Andrews: participates in local science festivals (e.g. Edinburgh, Fife, Dundee) and give schools talks. Lecture at the
annual Sutton Trust Summer School and participates in the Annual Space Camp for P6 pupils. Contributes to Sun Trek, a
Public Outreach/Educational Website (

Warwick: engages at various levels with a broad and innovative approach to outreach, spanning formal presentations to
interest groups (local astronomical societies), active engagement with media and larger projects (e.g. NESTA). A full-time
schools liaison officer supports links with schools and wider community.

2. Knowledge exchange
The large area sCMOS camera to be developed is to meet the needs of next-generation solar telescopes and the broader
astronomy community. However, the solar astronomy market alone is substantial, given the continued investment in
existing solar facilities in Europe, US, India and China. There is also currently a demand for large-area CCD cameras in the
general astronomy market. It is anticipated that a significant part of this market will migrate towards the next-generation of
sCMOS detectors which offer faster speeds and lower noise. Non-solar applications include: near-Earth object detection,
speckle interferometry, 'lucky astronomy' and other projects in high-time resolution astrophysics. It is also common in the
astronomy marketplace to encounter significant opportunities for large-area cameras. For example, Andor is currently
negotiating a contract to deliver 80 large area CCD units for one project, with delivery over a 4-year period.

Although the unit sales of large-area sCMOS will not be as high as those for the current breed of mid-range sCMOS
cameras for microscopy and optical electron microscope instrumentation applications, large-area astronomy detectors are
typically priced much higher than mid-range detectors. Hence a lower volume market still yields an appropriate business
case. A longer-term aim is to adapt the camera platform for high-speed X-ray detection applications, including protein
crystallography and computed 3D X-ray tomography.

Competition currently does not exist, in that large area, fast sCMOS technology has not yet been offered, but that is no
guarantee it will not arrive from other parties within the timescale of the development project. The most likely competitor is
a US-based company which is already very active in large-area CCDs. However, Andor remains confident of holding a
market leading position, given their breath of expertise in both sCMOS and vacuum sensor technology


10 25 50
Description Various DKIST observing proposals developed.
Exploitation Route New observations, further modelling.
Sectors Other

Description The development of new detectors which will be used in many areas outside of astronomy.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Other
Impact Types Economic

Description Science cases for DKIST 
Organisation Northumbria University
Department Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Working with partners at University of Northumbria on writing science case to use DKIST.
Collaborator Contribution Both partners contribute to different aspects of the proposal; some may be science text while others is instrumentals details.
Impact Two science cases on the above webpage.
Start Year 2016
Description DKIST workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A series of DKIST workshops.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact An update of the work under-taken by the different research groups relating to the DKIST grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016