Detector development for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Mathematics and Statistics

Abstract

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 children, with summer projects funded by Nuffield Foundation. Partnership with W5 Discovery Centre, hosting talks/Q&A sessions and hands-on building games.
Armagh: tours of Observatory and Astropark, 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 and public including in remote parts of Scotland; school visits with mobile planetarium; tours of observatory; Start-up Science school workshops with RSE and STFC Meet the Expert sessions.
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 physics uptake. Creating 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. Lectures 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 (www.suntrek.org).
Warwick: 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). Schools liaison officer supports links wih 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 project timescale. The most likely competitor is a US-based company already very active in large-area CCDs. However, Andor is confident of holding a market leading position, given their breath of expertise in both sCMOS and vacuum sensor technology.
 
Description Swirl identification.
Exploitation Route It is part of a larger project and our result will be embedded there
Sectors Energy

 
Title ASDA - Automated Swirl Detection Algorithm 
Description The Automatic Swirl Detection Algorithms (ASDA) consists a collection of Python codes developed in the University of Sheffield, aimed to be used for automatic swirl/vortex detection from observational images of the solar atmosphere. ASDA takes a series of observations (at least two frames), and outputs the swirl detecition results saved in .npz (Python Numpy) files. The basic workflow of ASDA contains two essential steps which are both required to perform swirl detections on preprocessed, scientifically-ready dataset from observations or simulations. These steps are: 1) the estimation of velocity field using the Fourier Local Correlation Tracking (FLCT) method (Welsch et al. 2004; Fisher & Welsch 2008); and 2) the application of vortex identification algorithms proposed by Graftieaux et al. (2001) to the velocity field estimated in the first step. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used by other groups in the field. 
URL https://github.com/PyDL/ASDA
 
Title Sheffield Solar Catalogue - SSC 
Description The Sheffield Solar Catalogue (SSC) project is a free and open-source web-interfaced software package for the analysis of solar photospheric data. This aim is achieved to fullfil the objective to establish a fully automated solar photospheric feature recognition environment from the raw images of solar photospheric intensity and/or magnetogram observations to a user-friendly and science-ready data source. The primary goal of the SSC is to replace manual elements of the data processing procedure, therefore, to reduce manpower needs once operational, saving substantial financial and human resources. The underlying core engine program is able to provide a real-time comprehensive solar photospheric feature data analysis environment, aimed to assist researchers within the field of solar physics. Last but not least, the project is fully open-source, providing transparency into the code base and is inviting colleagues to contribute for upgrading the software as appropriate. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Used by other groups in the field 
URL http://ssc.shef.ac.uk
 
Description DKIST UK Consortium 
Organisation Armagh Observatory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 150k by University of Sheffield
Collaborator Contribution Cash contribution to topup STFC award
Impact Under development.
Start Year 2014
 
Description DKIST UK Consortium 
Organisation Northumbria University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 150k by University of Sheffield
Collaborator Contribution Cash contribution to topup STFC award
Impact Under development.
Start Year 2014
 
Description DKIST UK Consortium 
Organisation Queen's University
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 150k by University of Sheffield
Collaborator Contribution Cash contribution to topup STFC award
Impact Under development.
Start Year 2014
 
Description DKIST UK Consortium 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 150k by University of Sheffield
Collaborator Contribution Cash contribution to topup STFC award
Impact Under development.
Start Year 2014
 
Description DKIST UK Consortium 
Organisation University of Warwick
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 150k by University of Sheffield
Collaborator Contribution Cash contribution to topup STFC award
Impact Under development.
Start Year 2014