CERN Accelerating science

Investing in detector technologies

Detector technologies are a vital component in the exploration of the fundamental laws of nature and the search for new physics that will answer some of the questions that the Standard Model leaves unanswered. Recognizing the importance of further R&D on detector technologies that could boost their performance and allow to meet the physics challenges of new experiments, ECFA has nominated a Detector Panel – a European committee reviewing and coordinating efforts for future project. Following a broad consultation, involving different shareholders from the academia and the industry, the panel published last December its input to the update of the European Strategy for particle physics.

The report gives an overview of the status of technologies and provides a set of recommendations for future developments. Moreover, it presents the results from a recent survey conducted during summer 2018 among researchers involved in ongoing R&D activities across Europe. More than 700 respondents at different stages of their career path – from PhD students to full Professors – gave their feedback helping to collect input on various aspects (technologies, demography, organisation, etc.) from the community. With a main focus on high-energy particle physics, the survey also addressed astroparticle physics as well as neutrino and nuclear physics.

Major branches of Physics in which detector R&D is performed normalised to the number of people who responded to the survey (multiple answers possible).

Regarding the current landscape, the survey revealed that the majority of activities is dedicated to the development of vertex detectors and trackers, mostly based on semiconductors (35%) . Significant effort is also dedicated to calorimetry (15%), detectors for particle identification (14%) and timing detectors (12%) followed by other types of more specialised detectors for neutrino physics and astrophysics.

The survey also revealed a strong appreciation of the value that R&D in detector technologies has for other domains and the possible spin-offs to many daily-life applications. Among the most referred areas are medical applications (65%), dosimetry (26%), security (18) and applications for cultural heritage (10%). However, it is worrying that in only one third of the R&D cases the exploitation of technology transfer strategy is well embedded in the programme, while the majority of respondents think that further support is needed to boost these efforts.

Sub-activities in which researchers are involved (multiple answers possible).

Perhaps a promising finding of the survey is the strong links established with industry in almost 50% of the R&D efforts in detector technology. In half of these cases, the collaboration was limited to the R&D phase, in 34% of the cases it refers to the mass production and full-scale industrialization of a technology. It is only in 16% of the cases that collaboration covers both the R&D and production phase and increasing this number may be a target in the future.

Regarding the funding mechanisms for this type of R&D, it seems that despite the non-negligible support from EU programmes a large portion of funding still comes from home institutes and from national funding agencies, while it is interesting to see that very few resources derive from industrial sponsors. Moreover, 77% of the respondents believe that R&D in Europe should be better coordinated among the different physics communities. In terms of other types of resources, a promising finding is the high level of satisfaction with the available infrastructure for detector R&D with about 90% of the participants confirming access to test beam infrastructures and another 90% to irradiation facilities – both important for testing new technologies and exploring novel promising ways in detector design. On the contrary there is a perceived lack of humanpower, as only 35% of the respondents think that the current level is enough to sustain future activities.

The availability of skilled professionals to join the field is linked to the need of further improving the learning and career opportunities. Although about 59% of those who responded to the survey believe that there is sufficient availability training in detector R&D the study also revealed that detector technology research is less valued compared to physics data analysis and interpretation. Moreover, an underlying assumption is that basic knowledge in electronics, mechanics and instrumentation should be better integrated in university curricula across Europe, thus better preparing students who wish to pursue a career in detector technology. Career-wise it also seems that more senior level grant support and long-term positions are needed to ensure that talented physicists and engineers decide to join R&D efforts for detectors and that future developments can profit from fresh ideas and out-of-the box thinking. Failing to attract young talent in the field of detector design could have a negative impact in fundamental research, while also depriving related industries – where detectors are key components – from future expertise.

Perceived most promising future R&Dtopics (top-11)

Participants in the survey also acknowledged the role of recent R&D collaborations in developing networks across different detector R&D activities. RD50, RD51, RD53, CALICE and AIDA2020 are among the most successful recent examples that allowed a better coordination of resources and investments and encouraging the sharing of innovative ideas and methodologies. Further coordination through CERN or Europe’s framework programme for Research and Innovation is encouraged as it would help the coordination between different design efforts, the sharing of available expertise and can catalyse developments that will attract future highly skilled professionals to the field.

Finally, the ECFA panel highlighted the need for more recognition and visibility to detector experts that also involves a changing attitude and raise of awareness within the wider particle physics community. In that sense, instrumentation schools have an important role as they can encourage/support students to make their first steps in the field. The panel proposed to help strengthening outreach/dissemination on detector technologies by working closely together with instrumentation schools and by using digital technologies to make relevant teaching material accessible to a larger audience on the Panel’s web site.

The results of the ECFA Detector Panel report helped to understand the current situation and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the field. Future incentives should target on training and creating career opportunities, assessing the value of technology transfer and enhancing coordination between between physics fields and technology specialisations. These are some of the areas where we need to invest to shape a successful future for the field of detector technology.