ISOTDAQ School: one of a kind

Particle physics research has many unique needs and sometimes has to create its own expertise to keep its systems running. For specialised areas like cryogenics and high-voltage technology, labs often run their own training courses. In line with this trend, CERN has started a series of International Trigger and Data Acquisition (ISOTDAQ) Schools. 2012 has seen the third ISOTDAQ School, which generated a lot of enthusiasm among the future generation of TDAQ experts.


Markus Joos tutoring a group of students.

“Can I call you back in about an hour? I’m just in the middle of tutoring a group of four students in one of our practical sessions,” says Markus Joos, one of the organisers, when we call him to ask some questions about the current ISOTDAQ School taking place in Cracow, Poland, from 1 to 8 February. He later explains that half of the teaching time at the School is dedicated to such practical sessions, where students complete exercises using computers, electronics hardware and even a small muon detector. The other half is taken up by lecture sessions with more theoretical content.

This format of the School is one of the things that contributes to its success, according to the participants. “It’s really good that you can touch the hardware and get down to some programming in the lab sessions,” says Sandra Saornil, who, when she’s not participating in the School, works in the silicon tracker group at LHCb. “Other schools have a more theoretical approach, but here you can really see how the hardware works.”

To make the hands-on practice possible, 600 kg of electronics modules and computers are shipped from CERN to wherever the School is taking place. The rest of the time, the equipment is kept in an operational state in a permanent lab at CERN. “We need it to train the tutors for the School,” says Markus Joos, “and it’s used for outreach activities too. It’s also available to any Summer Students who are interested.”

The School and its lab are quite a unique resource, as there are very few places to gain expertise on TDAQ outside of on-the-job learning. “We realised that universities and institutes were supplying manpower but not the TDAQ training, because trigger and data acquisition is just too specialised for university courses,” explains Gökhan Ünel, who initiated the first ISOTDAQ School. Since the first School in 2010 in Ankara, Turkey, they have been able to repeat it in Rome, Italy in 2011 and this year in Cracow. “We already have candidates for the next two venues,” says Markus.

Demand for the School will hopefully continue, because the organisers have been careful to cast their net wide. “TDAQ is a generic concept. It can be used in a one-person lab experiment or in any other project right up to the scale of the LHC detectors, and we reflect that in our curriculum,” explains Krzysztof Korcyl, a researcher in Cracow and a member of ATLAS, who took on much of the local organisation of the School. The School’s wide reach explains why it appeals to people from a range of disciplines from inside CERN and elsewhere, whether physicists, computer scientists or engineers. “We hope the School makes a real contribution to knowledge transfer from CERN,” concludes Markus.

Key facts

- 48 students from most European countries, as well as India and Canada

- 20 lecturers and tutors; 4 of the tutors are from the ACEOLE / Marie Curie project

- hosted by the Department of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science of the Cracow University of Technology and co-organised by the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow

- co-sponsored by the ACEOLE Marie Curie programme and the Polish Academy of Sciences who subsidised 15 students either in full or partially

- one exercise sponsored and run by a representative of National Instruments


by Joannah Caborn Wengler