Crystals’ added value

We are becoming used to the many applications that physics transfers to society. They span from vacuum techniques to electronics, and, of course, medicine and biophysics. The EU-supported PICOSEC project, of which CERN is the coordinator, goes beyond the simple spin-off technology and opens the doors of state-of-the-art crystal research to 22 researchers for applications that include calorimetry but also the next generation PET scanners.



Prototypes of crystal matrices developed for medical imaging projects.


The keyword is “multidisciplinary approach”. Developing new detectors for implementation in high-energy physics experiments but also in medical instrumentation requires a very diverse mixture of skills and competencies. Such a mixture does not necessarily come from a specific university faculty but rather from targeted training opportunities that are designed by several stakeholders, each one contributing with its own specificity.

The PICOSEC (Pico-second Silicon photomultiplier-Electronics- & Crystal research) EU-supported Marie Curie Training Network combines the necessary competence, expertise and infrastructure for top-level training of young researchers. The main goal is to train 18 Early Stage Researchers and four Experienced Researchers in order to develop new detection techniques based on very fast crystal scintillators that find applications also in medical imaging. The project involves seven institutes in academia and research – CERN, Technical University of DELFT, DESY, UHEI Heidelberg, LIP, University of Milano, Technical University of Munich – and four industrial partners – Kloé Montpellier, Fibercryst Lyon, ST-Microelectronic Catania, SurgicEye Munich. “PICOSEC is an interdisciplinary, multi-national initiative. The participation of both public and private organisations in the common research program maximises the skills exchange and the transfer of knowledge. The direct involvement of private companies ensures a fast transfer of any future spin-off to society,” says Etiennette Auffray, member of CERN’s PH Department and PICOSEC Project Coordinator.

The researchers will be involved in the development of novel high-speed photo-detection instruments for high-energy physics calorimetry at the future generation of colliders with unprecedented beam intensities. They will also participate in projects that aim at implementing the photon time-of-flight technique in the next generation PET scanners. The new technique targets specific cancers, such as that in the pancreas, and makes use of an innovative imaging probe that integrates a miniaturised PET detector head in an ultrasonic endoscope. “The photon time-of-flight technique allows us to better reconstruct the region of interest around the tumour as it effectively reduces background coming from uncorrelated photons. The enhancement in the quality of the medical image brings instant benefits to patients and medical institutions,” explains Tom Meyer, member of CERN’s PH Department and chair of the Network's Supervisory Board.

The webpage of the project provides the details of the vacancies that are offered by all participating partners to researchers who wish to get involved in the project. The project has a duration of four years and started in December 2011.

by Antonella Del Rosso