No speed limits in medical imaging and high-energy physics

Speed, or high time resolution, is becoming increasingly important, if not crucial, in the high-energy physics domain, both for particle acceleration and detection systems. Medical-imaging technology also vitally depends on high time resolution detection techniques, often the offspring of today’s large particle physics experiments. The four-year FP7 Marie Curie Training Project “PicoSEC-MCNet”, which draws to a close at the end of November, was designed to develop ultra-fast photon detectors for applications in both domains. The project has achieved important results that promise to trigger further developments in the years to come.


The PicoSEC-MCNet project participants.

“New requirements in high-energy physics force us to push the limits of photon detection speed, as future high-luminosity accelerators will force us to cope with the unprecedentedly short bunch crossing intervals needed to produce sufficient luminosity,” explains Tom Meyer, chair of the PicoSEC-MCNet Supervisory Board. “In parallel, new high-speed photon detectors would have tangible benefits for today’s imaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography, where they could deliver significant reductions in background signal. As a consequence, tumours would be detected at an earlier stage and with a lower radiation dose delivered to the patient. This would produce an overall improvement of imaging quality.”

PicoSEC-MCNet was a multidisciplinary training network coordinated by CERN. It comprised seven public research and four industrial partners in six European countries, and recruited 22 young researchers from 15 countries worldwide to work on the overall improvement of photon detection. Research and training covered areas from scintillator light output and transfer, optimisation of photon detectors (SiPMs), electronics and data acquisition, to system integration and data analysis. “I am very happy with the scientific achievements of the Network,” says Etiennette Auffray, the Network’s Coordinator. “PicoSEC-MCNet was a very valuable opportunity for all the partners to exchange information and best practices effectively, and this happened not only between the various academic institutes but also with commercial companies.”

A large number of the researchers involved with the network’s activities – both research and training – were young. For them, PicoSEC-MCNet was also an opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of different cultures and, for some of them, to get to know CERN. “It was an enriching experience, both from the scientific and cultural point of view,” confirms Mythra Varun Nemallapudi from India, one of the four CERN PicoSEC-MCNet researchers. “During round-table meetings of the Network, it could very well happen that each participant came from a different country, from a different culture,” he added. “Working together on an international collaborative project, as opposed to “classical” research in only one lab, gives you a much broader perspective,” confirms Pawel Modrzynski from Poland, another of the CERN fellows.

“We can proudly say that we truly executed our European mandate to make knowledge flow across borders and disciplines, in order to train a new generation of young European scientists,” concludes Auffray.

For more information on the scientific achievements, click here

by Rita Giuffredi & Tom Meyer