Particle physics tools to push the boundaries of knowledge

Detectors at the accelerators of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) help answer big questions about the Universe and support advances in fields such as medical technology. An EU-funded project is fostering collaboration on detector development to boost such scientific progress.

Theme: Energy, Health & life sciences, Industrial research, Research infrastructures, Science in society 
Framework programme: Horizon 2020 
Countries involved in the project: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Discoveries related to the fundamental properties of matter and energy boost knowledge about the Universe. They are also at the heart of modern technological developments. Particle physics research is a key driver of these developments and Europe is a global leader in this area, thanks to research infrastructures like CERN.

With the upgrade of CERN's Large Hadron Collider and the preparation of new experiments, particle physicists have big challenges to overcome in order to answer important questions about the Universe and the newly detected Higgs boson.

Researchers thus need major advances in detector technology. Detectors are devices that track and record particles collisions, once they have been charged to high speeds and energy levels by accelerators. The collisions allow physicists to gather information about exotic kinds of matter.

Beyond fundamental research, to ensure the scientific knowledge gained from CERN can have a practical use, the EU-funded AIDA-2020 project has brought together leading institutes, universities and technological centres. The resulting collaborations allow participants to explore novel detector technologies through joint research and networking activities and by using Europe's most advanced detector development and testing infrastructures.

'Projects like AIDA-2020 combine intellectual, infrastructural and financial resources and allow researchers to make best use of public funding by promoting common goals for international collaboration and transfer of knowledge to industry,' says project coordinator Felix Sefkow from the DESY research centre in Germany. 'AIDA-2020 exploits the innovation potential of detector research. The project engages with European industry for large-scale production of detector systems and aims to develop applications for fields outside of particle physics, such as medical imaging and treatment, space radiation monitoring and x-ray imaging for non-destructive testing.'

Links with industry
The sharing of infrastructures ensures optimal resource use, coherent development based on a common strategy, and improved collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Progress in detector technology will boost wider scientific progress and help Europe maintain its leadership in particle physics. Such advances can also find their way into industry, with potentially huge societal impacts. Prominent applications today include medical imaging and radiotherapy.

The project's organisation of joint academia-industry events fosters industrial application and large-scale production of detector technology.

AIDA-2020 further improves cooperation with industry by providing proof-of-concept funding to support particle physics technology transfer, with the aim of helping Europe's industry become more competitive and generating indirect benefits, such as training for young professionals.

Additional opportunities for advancing detector technologies are created through a transnational access programme. Research teams can apply to use test beam and irradiation facilities for testing detector systems in countries other than the one in which they are based.

Attracting young researchers
The project will benefit thousands of researchers participating in future particle physics activities. Moreover, projects like AIDA-2020 help draw young researchers into the field.

'International collaborations drive scientific and technological progress, and they are driven by young talent,' says Sefkow. 'Very few of these talented researchers stay in academia. Some find their way to applied research with industrial organisations or consulting companies. They take with them vast knowledge of the latest technologies and experience in highly professional international collaborations, such as AIDA-2020. For this reason, particle physics remains an attractive area for the brightest minds and most creative talents, who are the basis of Europe's future prosperity.'

Project details

  • Project acronym: AIDA-2020
  • Participants: Switzerland (Coordinator), Austria, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK
  • Project N°: 654168
  • Total costs: € 12 909 986
  • EU contribution: € 10 000 000
  • Duration: May 2015 to April 2019

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