STFC PPRP Capital Equipment Call 2018

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


Particle physics, the quest to understand matter, forces and mass generation at the most fundamental level, is never far from the news, particularly the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its discovery of the Higgs boson. Our group has a balanced programme, exploiting the full reach of the LHC in energy and precision (ATLAS, LHCb), as well as other aspects of the unique capabilities of the CERN accelerator complex (NA62). One part of this proposal is to renew our computing capabilities in order to continue to enable the highest quality of analysis of the large volumes of data that these experiments produce, as they continue to operate for a further two decades as the world's premier energy frontier facility. It will also place us well to become involved in large scale data analysis of new experiments.

Birmingham University has recently invested heavily in setting up a new suite of clean rooms, the Birmingham Instrumentation Laboratory for Particle Physics and Applications (BILPA), which has transformed our group's capability for large-scale construction and R&D in the area of precision silicon tracking detectors. One major project for the BILPA is to make major contributions to the very large-scale upgrades to the ATLAS detector that are required in order to cope with the unprecedented event rates and radiation environments. In an upgrade to the innermost charged particle tracking detector, we will be constructing intricate `silicon strip' detector modules, requiring around 8000 ultrasonic wire bonds per day. The BILPA also has an extensive R&D programme into detector technologies, both for future experiments and for technology transfer, for example into Medical Physics. In the latter context, we our building detectors for real-time imaging at proton radiotherapy centres. This proposal includes a request for three essential items of equipment that the BILPA requires in order to carry out all of these activities efficiently and to a high standard.

Planned Impact

The Birmingham group is internationally excellent in its outreach work, introducing particle physics to wide audiences and using the LHC in particular to capture their imagination. We provide University, UK and international leadership (eg one of us held an STFC Public Engagement Fellowship). Our work with schools (ranging from spark chamber demonstrations to a Minecraft version of the LHC) provides an exciting format for engaging students and also contributed to CPD for teachers. We have been very active at exhibitions and science festivals, notably the Royal Society Summer Exhibitions. We also regularly appear in local, national and international TV, radio and printed media. The high profile developed through particle physics outreach work has resulted a measurable increase in the numbers of students applying to study physics at University.

Our `BILPA' silicon detector laboratory enables us to pursue wide-ranging knowledge exchange and technology transfer activities. Most prominent among these is `PRaVDA' and associated projects, developing precision detectors and dosimetry for use in proton beam radiotherapy, also making extensive use of the Birmingham MC40 cyclotron for detector testing and radiation tolerance characterisation. This will continue into the future, with a view to deployment in the NHS proton therapy facilities at Christie Hospital Manchester and University College Hospital London and in private centres. We have a wide-range of related start-up activities, also involving calorimetry and micropattern gaseous detectors. Those that show the most promise will be built towards full proposals to STFC or EPSRC.

Our facilities and expertise in ultrasonic wire bonding enables us to become involved in further projects with a high potential for impact. For example, we have collaborated with other departments and institutes on implantable electrical interfaces to the nervous system, which might provide amputees with significantly increased control over prosthetic limbs and a sense of touch and of limb position. Our basic R&D programme into novel silicon sensors, particularly highly radiation tolerant ones, has wide ranging potential long-term future applications. In this context, we keep in close contact with the University's Knowledge and Technology Transfer network and with the Manufacturing Technology Catapult Centre (MTC), which was set up by the regional development agency and is part-owned by the University. In a pending bid to STFC we have teamed up with the MTC to provide a local STFC innovation hub, which will be used to engage with local industry on a wide range of projects, also linking in to Birmingham's major Quantum Technology Hub centre.

Finally we are constantly seeking opportunities to engage with International Development and Global Challenges. At a small scale this happens through scientific collaborations within our experiments. Our larger-scale ambitions include replicating aspects of the BILPA laboratory in developing countries. In this context we are currently building plans with partners in Jammu, India.


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