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General readout electronics for cross-sectoral application in European research infrastructure

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GenEl (General readout electronics for cross-sectoral application in European research infrastructure)

Reporting period: 2020-04-08 to 2022-04-07

The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) "General readout electronics for cross-sectoral application in European research infrastructure (GenEl)" enables novel experiments in the fields of experimental hadron and particle physics and beyond. It provides cutting-edge general multi-purpose readout electronics for detector research and development (R&D).

The European research landscape is a diverse field of innovativeness. Fundamental new findings are nowadays only possible by employing novel concepts and cutting-edge technology. The R&D of the instruments that allow new innovation is a field of research on its own. Within the discussions on the European Strategy for Particle Physics, several upgrades of the current research infrastructure and new experiments in the field of particle physics are considered. Due to the fact that physics beyond the Standard Model of Particle Physics has so far not been observed at the current flagship, the LHC (Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Physics CERN), other smaller experiments attract attention. In the upcoming years, several non-accelerator and fixed target experiments will be installed, each requiring detector R&D and new readout electronics.

Besides of the fundamental research, where the new findings impact society on timescales of a century, the technological advancements to realise such experiments are a direct contribution to the technological advancement of humankind in general. The further development of readout electronics for a general application in several experiments, as was performed within this project, strengthens the European research landscape, initiates exchange between the different research groups within Europe and abroad. The students involved in the project were trained to highly qualified experts in fields essential for our society as digitisation, big data management, product quality control and cutting-edge electronics systems.

The topic of the project was general readout electronics that enables fundamental and applied research, not only in particle physics, but also in nuclear physics, medicine, generic detector R&D and many other domains. Such a system was developed, finalised, provided, promoted and applied.
For the first time, a readout system explicitly targeted for cross-sectoral application can be employed by a variety of different users and was provided by the applicant as central responsible and main developer. This approach allowed and will allow research groups with little knowledge and capabilities in readout electronics to build world-leading experiments. Many experiment groups were assisted to set up their instruments, which is further continued through collaboration. For the principal investigator, the large professional network, the further involvement in the operation and data analysis of some selected experiments applying the readout system paves the way for the long term career development.
The work performed in the project was multidimensional and split in five Work Packages (WPs):
WP1 Core research:
At the project start, a working environment for the Marie Curie Fellow (MCF) was set up at the host. A fully functional Scalable Readout System (SRS) with the VMM front-end chip (called SRS VMM in the following) for own R&D was purchased. A dedicated working group in the worldwide RD51 collaboration on SRS VMM R&D with monthly meetings was set up as a platform for remote collaborative work in particular with the previous MCF group at CERN. An interactive Discord channel is used for exchange and community support in times of the pandemic. The MCF maintained his leading role in the developments and set up his own group at the host with several students. Within the first months of the project, the SRS VMM left the R&D phase and the first production batch could be delivered to the most active developers. The main technical work performed or supervised by the MCF were: Improvement of the readout rate (Master thesis), development of a production quality assurance (AQ) and characterisation tool for VMM front-end boards (Master thesis), evaluation of the noise level of VMM front-end boards (Master thesis), VMM front-end detector integration and cooling (Master thesis), applications at gaseous detectors (support of a PhD student), setup and improvement of the SRS backend power crate for large system (MCF), organisation of the first production batches (MCF with CERN group and SRS Technology). At the host, the MCF triggered two projects applying SRS VMM. Nationally, he assisted six projects or research groups. On an international level, seven groups were supported.
WP2 Soft skills:
Training and primary experience equipped the MCF with key skills relevant for a career in science.
- He was fully integrated in the host's lecturing program in five courses, partially as lecturer. Those experiences allowed to learn the different formats, in digital and remote ways, and train the university teaching skills.
- He engaged in the academic self-administration and community shaping as member of seven local and national committees. The memberships allowed deep and usually hidden insights into the research system and enabled novel networks.
- He supervised four master students and successfully guided them to completing their degree in physics and perform their research projects within the context of the MCF action.
- He was involved in five third-party funding applications as main driver or principal investigator. The application for an ERC Starting Grant is envisioned for autumn.
WP3 Secondment:
Due to the pandemic, the secondment with SRS Technology in Switzerland could not be performed in person. Instead, the work and cooperation was coordinated and performed remotely. The first production batches of the SRS VMM hardware were organised and made available to the community. A master student developed a system to evaluate and characterise the quality of the SRS VMM front-end boards, which had impact on the SRS Technology production process.
WP4 Dissemination:
The work was presented on 13 conferences e.g. TIPP2020, IEEE NSS/MIC 2020, TWEPP2021, Pisa Meeting 2022.
One publication in a peer-review journal was published, another two are under review and a third one is in preparation. Three master theses were completed, a fourth will be submitted. The MCF contributed to a white paper on the US Snowmass process.
WP5 Outreach:
The main activity was to motivate and supervise young researchers to guide them through first scientific research. Due to the pandemic, public events, activities at schools and excursions to research facilities were cancelled.
The SRS VMM has reached the production phase and more than 1200 front-end boards have been produced for around 20 research groups. The production of the system hardware has been transferred to the industrial partner SRS Technology. SRS VMM becomes the backbone in the field of gaseous detectors and other domains. With the communication tool, documents and technical contributions developed within this action, the groups with little knowledge on the system are able to apply SRS VMM for their fundamental research. The MCF has trained his students and researchers from other institutes to use the system. The host has become one of the central hubs for SRS VMM. The exploitation of the SRS VMM developments completed within this project has just started as more groups want to use the system.
GEM detector with SRS VMM electronics at a test beam at CERN